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Alzheimer Disease (cont.)

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

Patient Comments

Alzheimer's disease begins with a mild, slowly worsening memory loss. Many older people fear that they have Alzheimer's disease because they can't find their eyeglasses or remember someone's name.

  • These very common problems are most often due to a much less serious condition involving slowing of mental processes with age.
  • Medical professionals call some of these cases benign senescent forgetfulness, age-related memory loss, or minimal cognitive impairment.
  • While these conditions are a nuisance, they do not significantly impair a person's ability to learn new information, solve problems, or carry out everyday activities, as Alzheimer's disease does.

Early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory problems such as the following:

  • Difficulty recognizing familiar people or things (not just forgetting a name)
  • Trouble remembering recent events or activities
  • Inability to solve simple arithmetic problems
  • Problems finding the right word for a familiar thing
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks

As the disease progresses, however, the symptoms become more serious. They may include the following:

  • Inability to carry out everyday activities, often called activities of daily living, without help - Bathing, dressing, grooming, feeding, using the toilet
  • Inability to think clearly or solve problems
  • Difficulties understanding or learning new information
  • Problems with communication - Speaking, reading, writing
  • Increasing disorientation and confusion even in familiar surroundings
  • Greater risk of falls and accidents due to poor judgment and confusion

In the later stages of the disease, the symptoms are severe and devastating:

  • Complete loss of short- and long-term memory - May be unable to recognize even close relatives and friends
  • Complete dependence on others for activities of daily living
  • Severe disorientation - May walk away from home and get lost
  • Behavior or personality changes - May become anxious, hostile, or aggressive
  • Loss of mobility - May be unable to walk or move from place to place without help
  • Impairment of other movements such as swallowing - Increases risk of malnutrition, choking, and aspiration (inhaling foods and beverages, saliva, or mucus into lungs)

These symptoms typically develop over a period of years. The disease progresses at different rates in different people.

Emotional problems such as depression and anxiety are common in older people. These problems can leave elderly people feeling confused or forgetful. Because these emotional problems are reversible in many people, it is important that they be distinguished from Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders.

When should I seek medical care for Alzheimers?

Some slowing of thinking processes is normal in aging. However, any change in thinking, memory, reasoning, attention, grooming, behavior, or personality that interferes with the person's ability to take care of himself or herself, maintain health and safety, or participate in activities that he or she enjoys warrants a visit to the person's health care provider.

An early diagnosis allows treatment to begin earlier in the disease, when it has the best chance of offering significant symptom relief. Early diagnosis also allows the affected person to plan activities and make arrangements for care while he or she can still take part in making the decisions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/16/2016
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Alzheimer Disease »

Alzheimer disease (Alzheimer’s disease, AD), the most common cause of dementia1, isan acquired cognitive and behavioral impairment of sufficient severity that markedly interferes with social and occupational functioning.

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