The main symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, disorientation, repetitive conversations, sudden mood changes and changes to language. It is important for a neurologist to assess these symptoms to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other possible conditions.
Alzheimer’s symptoms are more common in adults over 65, however it can occur in younger adults, especially in those with a family history of it. In these cases, it is referred to as early-onset Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s disease should be diagnosed as early as possible, as this is key for delaying advancement and worsening toward dementia.
Symptoms that can help to identify Alzheimer’s include:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty completing day-to-day tasks
- Disorientation (to person, place and/or time)
- Struggling with language
- Repeating conversations or tasks
- Swapping usual places for things
- Sudden changes in mood or personality in some cases
- Disinterest in routine activities
It is important to monitor for these signs and symptoms and to report them to a neurologist or psychiastrist. Upon assessment of these symptoms and other performance tests, a diagnosis can be concluded and treatment can be started to avoid rapid decline.
Online symptom checker
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Symptoms according to Alzheimer’s stages
Alzheimer’s symptoms can also vary depending on the patient’s stage of Alzheimer’s:
1. Initial stage
In the initial stage of Alzheimer’s, common symptoms include:
- Changes in memory, mainly difficulty remembering recent events, like where keys were stored, someone’s name or a the name of a place recently visited
- Disorientation in many environments, like the grocery store, and homes of friends or family
- Difficulty making simple decisions, like planning what to cook or buy
- Constantly repeating the same information, or asking the same questions
- Loss of desire to complete activities of daily living
- Loss in interest in participating in activities that were once interesting
- Behavior changes, generally reverting to more anger or anxiousness
- Increased anxiety
- More time taken than usual to complete activities of daily living
In this phase, memory changes are noted in recalling recent events, while older memories remain the same. This makes Alzheimer’s detection more difficult.
If you notice these symptoms, you should not write them off as signs of agings. You should consult a geriatric specialist or neurologist for a full evaluation and memory exam, which will identify more subtle symptoms.
2. Moderate stage
The symptoms of a moderate stage of Alzheimer’s include:
- Difficulty cooking or cleaning the house, leaving the stove on, putting raw food on the table, using the wrong equipment to clean the house.
- Inability to maintain person hygiene, forgetting to bathe and constantly using the same clothes
- Difficulty communicating, not remembering words or saying sentences that don’t make sense, limited vocabulary
- Difficulty reading and writing
- Disorientation in familiar environments, like getting lost at home, urinating in the trash can or confusing rooms
- Hallucinations, like hearing or seeing things that don’t exist, suspicions/paranoia that things were stolen
- Loss of impulse control, which can lead to removing clothes in inappropriate places or using improper language
- Lack of trust
- Sleep disorders, insomnia and swapping days for nights
In this phase, the patient becomes more dependent on a family member or caregiver. They are no longer able to complete activities of daily living due to difficulties and confusion. It is possible to also notice difficulty with walking and sleep changes.
3. Advanced stage
In its advanced stage, symptoms of Alzheimer’s are more severe and the patient is often fully dependent on others. Symptoms include:
- Unable to memorize new information and not remembering older information
- Forgetting family members, friends and familiar places, not remembering names or faces
- Difficulty understanding what is happening around them
- Incontinence, urinary and stool
- Difficulty swallowing food, and becoming more prone to choking or taking a long time to finish a meal
- Inappropriate behavior like burping and spitting when not appropriate
- Losing ability to perform simple movements, like lifting arms or legs and eating with a spoon
- Difficulty walking, sitting or getting up
In this phase, patients tends to spend more time lying down or sitting. If not prompted to move, these patients become more weak and limited. Therefore, many patients require a wheelchair or may become bed-bound, and will rely on others for all tasks, like bathing or changing briefs.
In addition, it is also possible note increased drowsiness, seizures and incontinence.
Confirming a diagnosis
To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, it is important to consult a geriatric specialist or neurologist. The doctor will evaluate the patient’s health history and assess their signs or symptoms, as well as order testing like MRI, CT and blood work.
The doctor will also perform memory and cognition screening tests, like the Mini Mental State Exam, the Clock Drawing Test and the Verbal Fluency Test to evaluate the degree of symptoms clarify the phase of Alzheimer’s the patient is in.
Treatment for Alzheimer’s involves the use of medication to decrease symptom severity, like memantine. The doctor may also prescribe physiotherapy and cognitive stimulation exercises.
Because this disease is not curable, treatment is often life-long. It is normal for patients to eventually become dependent of others to complete activities of daily living, like eating, brushing teeth, and bathing. It is important for a caregiver to be close by to help the patient avoid dangerous situations.