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Early Indicators of Alzheimer's Disease

Ten Classic Warning Signs


Updated April 22, 2008

Before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, people often notice early indicators -- either about themselves or about a relative -- that signal possible Alzheimer's. Be aware of the 10 classic warning signs first identified by the Alzheimer's Association. If you notice several of these indicators in yourself or your loved one, be sure to tell your doctor.

1. Memory Problems

People with Alzheimer's disease will show early signs of memory problems, especially difficulty remembering recently learned information. While it's normal to occasionally forget phone numbers or appointments, those with Alzheimer's will gradually forget more and more and become less able to recall information later.

2. Language/Communication Difficulties

Photo © Administration on Aging
Photo © Administration on Aging
Mild difficulty communicating to others or understanding what others are saying is an early indicator of possible Alzheimer's disease. While it's normal to periodically have trouble coming up with the right word to express your thoughts, someone with Alzheimer's will have much more trouble communicating and understanding what is being spoken about.

3. Lapses in Judgment

Those showing early signs of Alzheimer's may start making unwise personal, social, or financial decisions. For example, the person might wear a heavy coat during the summer or make sexual advances toward a waiter or waitress. While it's normal to occasionally make questionable choices, someone with Alzheimer's may display more serioius lapses in judgment that are uncharacteristic for them.

4. Problems Completing Familiar Tasks

Photo © Microsoft
Photo © Microsoft
Individuals with Alzheimer's will start having problems planning and executing chores like fixing meals or paying bills. While it's normal to sometimes become sidetracked and forget where one was in the middle of an activity, those with Alzheimer's often won't be able to regain their bearings or follow through with a task.

5. Disorientation

People with Alzheimer's often become disoriented with their time and place. For instance, they may be confused about the current time, day, date, month, season, and/or year. They may also be confused about where they are in regard to address, city, state, or country. While it's normal to temporarily forget where one is headed or what day of the week it is, those with Alzheimer's might become lost on the way to the grocery store and be unable to make it back home.

6. Decreased Ability to Think Abstractly

Photo © Microsoft
Photo © Microsoft
A person with Alzheimer's will begin having trouble completing complex intellectual tasks, such as estimating the cost of a couple of items at the store or playing a board game. While it's normal to periodically have trouble with things like balancing the checkbook, a person with Alzheimer's might have consistent problems balancing a checkbook and in the later stages, he may no longer understand the meaning or purpose of the numbers in the checkbook.

7. Misplacing Objects

A common early indicator of Alzheimer's is losing possessions and not being able to find them again, usually because the object was put in an odd place. For instance, a person with Alzheimer's might lose a hair dryer because he put it in the washing machine and doesn't remember doing so. While it's normal to occasionally misplace a set of keys or a wallet, only to find them later in a logical place, a person with Alzheimer's often won't be able to find the item again.

8. Changes in Mood and/or Behavior

Photo © Microsoft
Photo © Microsoft
Someone with Alzheimer's may become extremely moody, switching between emotions such as anger and elation within a matter of seconds. While it's normal to occasionally feel down in the dumps or giddy, a person with Alzheimer's may display these emotions for no apparent reason and shift between them unpredictably.

9. Shifts in Personality

In addition to becoming moody, individuals with Alzheimer's will sometimes show changes in personality. For instance, someone who had always been very independent and confident might become overly dependent and suspicious. While it's normal to occasionally not feel like ourselves, this feeling is usually temporary and doesn't change our general behavior or the way we relate to others.

10. Apathy/Loss of Initiative

Photo © Microsoft
Photo © Microsoft
A common early indicator of Alzheimer's is increased passivity. In other words, the person might watch television for several hours a day, be reluctant to participate in activities he used to enjoy, or sleep most of the day. While it's normal to feel tired now and then, someone with Alzheimer's might be apathetic to a degree that negatively affects day-to-day functioning.

11. Sources:

About Alzheimer's: Warning signs. Alzheimer's Foundation of America. 2008. http://www.alzfdn.org/AboutAlzheimers/warningsigns.html

Ten warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's Association. 2005. http://www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_10warnsigns.pdf

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