Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that impacts memory, behaviors and cognitive abilities. It’s estimated that 5.8 million Americans 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This form of dementia is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Understanding the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease is crucial to the individual’s quality of life. An early diagnosis provides a better chance of benefiting from treatments. Additionally, identifying the disease early helps the patient prepare emotionally, mentally and physically for what’s to come. Multiple therapies and treatments are available that can work to slow the disease’s progress.
Here are the top 10 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
1. Significant Memory Loss
It’s normal to forget small details every so often, only to have the information come back later. However, a person with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease may start to forget details more often or forget information they just learned.
A person with Alzheimer’s will start to display signs of memory loss by not being able to follow along in conversations, having difficulties remembering people (even loved ones) and forgetting important details such as their home address. In the beginning, individuals might try to fight this constant memory loss by using tactics to trigger their memory. For example, they may write down their home address in their mobile phone or leave sticky notes around the house to remind them of upcoming events.
If this seems to be happening more and more frequently, it’s time to see your doctor. The difference between normal forgetfulness at this age and an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s is if the forgotten information eventually comes back to you. If you find that it doesn’t, it could be a sign of early Alzheimer’s.
2. Losing Items
While most people misplace things, a person with Alzheimer’s will often put them in an inappropriate location. For example, they might put their keys in the bathroom sink. Additionally, they’ll start to have trouble retracing their steps so they can find the item. They won’t be able to describe where they were or what they were doing before losing the item. Eventually, this experience of constantly losing things can cause your loved one to become suspicious, and they may start to accuse others of stealing from them.
3. Social Isolation
A person with Alzheimer’s disease can start to notice their memory problems and become embarrassed, have difficulties following conversations and become suspicious of others. These problems can cause them to withdraw at work and in social settings, actions that typically worsen as the disease progresses.
Watch out for significant changes in your loved one’s social life. This can include avoiding their club meetings, seeming uninterested in work and losing their passion for hobbies.
4. Challenges With Planning and Problem-Solving
Some people with Alzheimer’s experience changes in their ability to plan and problem-solve. Concentrating becomes more of a challenge, and, as a result, it takes longer to do everything than it did before. One of the most prominent signs is finding it hard to work with numbers, for example, making mistakes on recipe measurements or bill payments.
5. Daily Tasks Become Impossible
People can often be distracted and forget to do something simple, like adding an item to their grocery list. However, someone with Alzheimer’s will begin to find performing regular tasks, such as grocery shopping itself, challenging. Routine day-to-day tasks that require critical thinking may become more challenging as the disease progresses. It can start with the most challenging tasks being impossible, such as creating a budget or planning a holiday dinner, to simple tasks like going to the grocery store becoming impossible.
You will notice that your loved one struggles with things that seem simple and obvious to you. They might also start to avoid these tasks altogether because they’ve become so challenging. For example, you may notice rotting food in the fridge because your loved one can’t make a grocery list or navigate the grocery store, or they’ve forgotten how to cook their usual meals. These symptoms might seem like casual slip ups at first but will become more obvious and concerning with time.
6. Personality Shifts
People with Alzheimer’s disease can go through drastic personality changes in a short period of time. As a result of the disease’s worsening symptoms, the individuals’ fear and anger can trigger mood swings and personality shifts.
This symptom most often occurs when the person is taken out of their routine and known, comfortable surroundings. When put into new environments or situations, their mood can drastically change; they may act confused, withdrawn, suspicious or fearful.
7. Challenges With Direction and Time
For people living with Alzheimer’s disease, details associated with time and space are frequently forgotten. They often lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. It also becomes increasingly hard to get a sense of direction.
A person with Alzheimer’s may get lost going home or not understand where they are, even when they’re in their own home. Or they may keep putting on a heavy winter coat although it’s a hot summer day.
In later stages, wandering becomes an issue for some Alzheimer’s patients. This is particularly dangerous if a patient wanders away from home unobserved or in the middle of the night and can’t make their way back.
8. Issues With Language
Sometimes, you feel tired or worn out and draw a blank when trying to communicate with others. There’s a word or phrase you want to say, but you just can’t remember it. However, eventually it comes to you.
For someone with Alzheimer’s disease, difficulties with language start to happen quite frequently. They’ll begin to describe things when they can’t find the word. For example, forgetting the name for a closet and saying “the small broom room.” When this is happening regularly, it can be a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
They also may start to repeat themselves often. You’ll find they ask the same questions or bring up the same stories over and over. Eventually, this makes having a conversation challenging because the person with dementia can’t follow along.
9. Vision Problems
This early warning sign can be difficult to spot because many people experience worsening vision as they age. However, for some individuals, vision problems can be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. There are differences between regular age-related vision loss and dementia-related vision problems. Most notably, they may start to trip, fall over more often or have issues with their balance. Additionally, determining color and contrast becomes harder, which can make driving dangerous.
10. Making Bad Decisions
Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease often experience changes in decision-making or judgment. This can make them susceptible to fraudsters, and they may respond to phishing emails or donate money to obviously fake charities.
Impaired judgment can also cause them to stop taking care of themselves or performing other important duties. For example, they may drive around with a flat tire or ignore a serious medical problem and avoid making a doctor’s appointment. If your loved one is making poor decisions that aren’t in line with their personality, consider that Alzheimer’s or dementia may be the cause.
While these are the 10 most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s not a complete list. Additionally, many individuals experience only some of the symptoms on this list.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one is displaying any of these signs, it’s essential to talk to a doctor immediately. Only a qualified health care professional, using multiple tests and assessments, can confirm an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Early detection can make a big difference in how this disease impacts both the individual and their loved ones.