20 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's or Dementia

20 Warning Signs

The key warning sign is change. The early symptoms of dementia are changes in your ability to process information, especially new information. Here are some examples of changes in ability to remember which can indicate early warning signs of dementia:

  1. Losing sense of smell or taste, or changes in those senses.
  2. Having trouble remembering names more than you did before.
  3. Losing things like car keys or glasses more often than before.
  4. Forgetting where you parked your car more frequently.
  5. Not being able to remember how to get to a store or friend's house you've visited before.
  6. Not being able to remember the title of a movie you just saw.
  7. Substituting a word because you can't remember the one you wanted.
  8. Forgetting appointments or phone calls more frequently.
  9. Needing to re-read something because you forgot it.
  10. Repeating questions because you forgot the answer.
  11. Having people tell you that you already told them something.
  12. Feeling depressed without a particular cause.
  13. Not remembering whether you took your medications.
  14. Buying too much of things, or buying things you forgot you already have.
  15. Having more difficulty in organizing events, or paperwork.
  16. Finding it more difficult to finish complicated tasks.
  17. Not feeling motivated to finish a project you started.
  18. Feeling more irritable, less in control of your emotions.
  19. Having more trouble learning a new task, like how to use a new phone.
  20. More difficulty in handling finances than before.

If you are concerned about these warning signs for yourself or a loved one, you may want to look at Tests for Alzheimer's.

Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Poll

Does the person you are concerned about show some of these warning signs of Alzheimer's?

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Dementia Affects a Family

Grandparents at school event.  Dementia prevented my in-laws from participating in most school events, so these few pictures we have are precious.
Grandparents at school event. Dementia prevented my in-laws from participating in most school events, so these few pictures we have are precious. | Source

Why Early Diagnosis is Important

The bad news: Most people are not diagnosed with until they have a crisis which forces their family to admit there is a problem. Generally, this is four years after the symptoms have first appeared. By that time:

  • Daily life has been disrupted for them and their families.
  • They need considerable help to continue to function.
  • It may be too late to use drugs or other therapies to delay the disease.

The good news: If you pay attention to warning signs which come before a person actually has the disease you can:

  • Practice the steps of preventing Alzheimer's which can delay the disease.
  • Get medical treatment early so that drug therapies which delay dementia work better.
  • Have time to prepare and plan as a family.

We sought to help delay my father-in-law's symptoms by involving him in family activities like this trip to the zoo.
We sought to help delay my father-in-law's symptoms by involving him in family activities like this trip to the zoo. | Source

Mild Cognitive Impairment is a Warning Sign

People who answer yes to some of the above early warning signs may not have dementia that interferes with daily living, but they may have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). People with Mild Cognitive Impairment:

  • Do have one area of impaired memory function.
  • Generally, can continue normal daily living although close family members may notice a difference in their memory.
  • Have trouble especially with remembering anything new.
  • Won't necessarily progress to having Alzheimer's, but have a 10 to 15 times higher chance of developing the disease each year.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) was a term coined by Dr. Ron Peterson of the Mayo Clinic to refer to memory impairment which is less than dementia, but not quite normal.

  • Dementia is defined as having two areas of impairment which affects daily living.
  • People with Mild Cognitive Impairment may be able to function quite well in normal daily living but they have enough damage to their brain that they do not function the same as they had before.

For example, people with MCI might be able to balance a checkbook, but would have trouble remembering 10 new words after a ten-minute pause (see the memory test in this Hub). Someone with dementia might not remember any of them, but a person with MCI might remember only 3 or 4. If he or she were given some instruction on memory techniques, they might do better, but still would not be up to their age group in ability.

MCI Memory Test

One easy test for the early warning signs is the MIC 10 item objective recall test. The idea for the test is taken for Gary Small's and Gigi Vorgan's excellent book, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program. Here is how to take the test:

  1. Set a timer for 1 minute.
  2. Memorize the list of ten words for that minute.
  3. Set the timer for 10 minutes and do something else. Surf the web, fold your laundry, or do a few sit-ups.
  4. When the timer goes off, get a paper and pencil and write down as many of the words as you can recall without looking back at the list.


  • 5 or more, your memory is probably in the normal range
  • 0-4: You may want to get a further assessment to see if you show signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment. You might also want to consider adopting some of the strategies to prevent Alzheimer's.

Memory Assessment for Alzheimer's

bird bath
cell phone
tennis shoe
My in-laws in Middle stage Alzheimers.  Like many people, we did recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer's in them before they had significant dementia.
My in-laws in Middle stage Alzheimers. Like many people, we did recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer's in them before they had significant dementia. | Source

How to Treat MCI Without Drugs

Diagnosing early warning signs means you can make lifestyle changes to prevent or delay the onset of severe symptoms. Here are the most important suggestions, which will improve anyone's memory and health:

1. Exercise: include aerobic, strength and balance exercises. Do at least 30 minutes of exercise every day and supplement this with changing your daily habits to:

  • take the stairs rather than the elevator
  • parking further out so you walk more
  • include gardening, housework and other chores in your daily activities to make sure you move rather than sit all day.
  • walk the dog

2. Eat Healthy Foods and Keep at the Correct Weight

  • eat lean meats
  • eat plenty of vegetables and fruits of different colors
  • eat whole grains

3. Strengthen your Memory Skills

  • learn memory strategies
  • take a class to learn a new skill
  • play games which involve thinking
  • surf the web to learn something new
  • learn a new language
  • do word puzzles

4. Reduce Your Stress

  • make sure you get enough sleep
  • take time away from work and media and relax
  • take breaks away from the computer to interact with someone in person
  • take a time management class to learn to manage your goals and set priorities
  • talk out your concerns with friends, family or a therapist if you need one
  • write out your thoughts and concerns in a journal

5. Socialize: People who have an active social network are less likely to have Alzheimer's than those who spend most of their time alone. So seek out opportunities to spend time with people you already know and to make new friends:

  • join a club
  • volunteer
  • talk to people in line at the store
  • help a neighbor

Why Mild Cognitive Impairment is Important

MCI might be seen as the brain's equivalent to the high blood pressure and high cholesterol that we know are symptoms of potential heart attack and stroke. Like those cardiovascular symptoms we have all been taught to watch out for, MCI is not always noticeable.

Luckily, also like those more familiar symptoms, early discovery of MCI allows for early treatment through lifestyle changes, diet and medication which can delay the onset of serious dementia and Alzheimer's. Moreover, even if you don't show signs of MCI, making some healthy changes now can help keep your brain healthy.

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Comments 34 comments

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 19 months ago from United States Author

Chantelle--I'm sorry to hear about your father. Be sure to check out my articles about how to help prevent Alzheimer's and how to test for Alzheimer's. I have done a lot of research on this issue because of our concern in our family and wanted to share what took me a long time to learn in a short and simple format to help people get the basics. There are lots of good books to read, but it helps to have the basic information quickly.

Chantelle Porter profile image

Chantelle Porter 19 months ago from Chicago

Very interesting article and timely. My father was diagnosed about 2 years ago with vascular dementia. Now every time I forget something I'm convinced I'm going down his path! LOL. Funny but somewhat scary. it has been quite an ordeal caring for him but so far we are managing. Aticles like yours help.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 3 years ago from United States Author

Silkekarina--You add an excellent point. On some of my other Alzheimer's Hubs I make this clearer that normal aging does make some slowing of processing which is not in any way related to Alzheimers. At any age, when our lives are stressful or busy, or we haven't had enough sleep or food, we can exhibit forgetfulness. The key is really that the person shows a real change from their usual patterns. Since there are drugs and therapies to help someone who is developing Alzheimers to slow down the progression of the disease, I think it is very helpful to be able to recognize early when it is happening. No one should be put in long term care unless that is necessary for their safety. Both of my in-laws almost died from their own mis-use of drugs, alcohol and abuse of one another which resulted in Alzheimer's making them lose self-control (my mother-in-law ended up with a broken arm, broken hip and overdosed on her anti-depressant drugs). We kept my in-laws in their own home for 2 years, giving them as much help as they needed to stay there even though they had Alzheimer's, but eventually they needed to have full-time medical care and they were much happier after that.

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Silkekarina 3 years ago from Germany

All the warning signs of dementia or alzheimers that you have mentioned, are of course true, but, and this is a big 'but', they can occur at any age, isolated and temporarily, when you are very busy, or if you are thinking about the next task before finishing the one you are doing. I am close to seventy and occasionally I forget where I have put something or I have to ask my daughter, a second time, which day she is coming to dinner, simply because we have arranged several appointments and one has slipped my mind or I have not put it in my diary. Too many elderly people have been shut away in homes simply because unqualified offspring think they know better.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Emmanuel--we also went through 2 years of not knowing what was happening to my husband's parents. That is one of the main reasons I wrote this Hub--so other people would have better information than we were able to get online.

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

My dad went into dementia and inspite of all the warning signs above, no one had an inkling what was going on. This hub is a great resource for everybody with aging relatives, not to mention that we are aging too. Great hub and shared.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks adrienne--I did a lot of research for this article and the others I wrote about Alzheimer's because after caring for my in-laws, I wanted to understand this disease better. There are many more studies going on right now and more treatments, but the best thing is to recognize the early signs and do all you can to keep your brain healthy.

adrienne2 profile image

adrienne2 4 years ago from Atlanta

This is one of the most in-depth articles I have read on the warning signs of Alzheimer. A lot of the warning signs on your list I was familiar with, but there was a lot of information here I did not know were warning signs.

Have voted up and useful.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi Li--I think that the key is changes in memory. If you are the same in remembering as you've always been then that is't Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is a brain disease. if you look at an Alzheimer's brain, it looks damaged. most of what I,ve read suggests that the autoposy of a person who had Alzheimer's shows immediately that they had the disease. what is perhaps more interesting to me is that some people can have Alzheimer,s brains but function in life as if they did not have the disease. that's what I wrote my hub preventinng Alzheimer's about. i'm practicing these things myself even though Alzzheimer,s is not common in my family and we tend to live to the 90s. I think strategies to protect your brain lead to the best possible life as an older person.

Li Galo profile image

Li Galo 4 years ago from Mainly the USA but Sometimes Abroad

I've been forgetful and absent-minded since I was a child. But I am great at memorizing things like tax law, which I do annually to stay qualified to do taxes. I wonder then, can forgetfulness or absent mindedness mask things like ADD instead? I just wondered since I have many of the early warning signs on your list but, then again, I've always been this way... It's not like it's new. People remark about how I used to lose things as a child and not remember people's names that I had just met when I was a kid. I tended to think it was because it was easy for me to be distracted. It's even hard for me to finish articles here because I start surfing the web, or get on facebook, and then forget I was writing a hub because I'm so engrossed in everything else, I'll have 20 tabs open, lol!

Phil Plasma profile image

Phil Plasma 4 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

Great hub to introduce people to the early signs, your list of 20 items to look for is especially helpful. Thanks for sharing! Voted up and useful.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Ronna--I do think the repeated story is part of that, but also people who don't have much social interaction may do that some. I also know that the stress of caregiving can make people have brain disfunction.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Fullof Love--my dad used to say the same thing about "just put me in a home and don't visit me." I think that it helps to realize that you will need help from others and to prepare for it.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for the comment Gus! Frankly, this subject is so hard I think you just have to laugh!

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Mary--Thanks so much my for noticing I'd put too many items on the test. I went back to fix it. You certainly can link this hub and I will have to check out yours. You might want to look at my other Hub on Tests for Alzheimers http://hubpages.com/health/Test-for-Alzheimers...

Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington 4 years ago from Arkansas

Just wondering...you mention that they ask questions over again b/c they've forgotten answers. Does that also include repeating stories over and over and over again within the same conversation?Alzheimer's/dementia are horribly evident in my family and I'm concerned about my mom now. I'm surprised to see, though, that I fit more of those warning signs than she does! Thanks for the info.

FullOfLoveSites profile image

FullOfLoveSites 4 years ago from United States

Even putting your keys to where you used to put, and just in a second you've totally forgotten where it is. That's really scary.

I've read an article written by a guy whose mother had Alzheimer's. He knew that this is an inherited condition, so he told his wife something like if he has a similar condition as he grows older, "just put me in a nursing home right away." Because he didn't want his daughter to go through such thing like he did.

Very informative and helpful hub. I get a lot from reading it. I'll pass it on to others so that people may chance upon this. Up, useful and shared. :)

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 4 years ago from USA

Virginia (VirginiaLynne) - Good article. All I have to do now is to remember what it had to say about some sort of thing. Oh, I know. This is not a humorous subject. The things you described are useful to people who want to help others and help themselves.

Too late for me, however. No worry about Alheimers. Everyone told me years ago that I was already nutty and that nutty folks don't get Alzheimers. Perhaps they all had something there...

Gotta sign up to be a fan of yours before I forget to do so...

Gus :-)))

mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I fear getting Alzheimer's Disease. I started taking your test and noticed there are 11 things to memorize, not 10. Am I wrong??? I wrote down the words and will take your test later today. I'm afraid I won't remember five or more!

I wrote a Hub about Brain Calculations in which I talk about doing some of the things you mention here. May I link this Hub to mine?

Voted this UP, and will share.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much Justsilvie--doing this research really convinced me to make some lifestyle changes, so I'm hoping it helps others too. I've lost weight, started doing more exercise and am eating more vegetables and Omega 3 and 6 fats.

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Justsilvie 4 years ago

Very useful article! Voted up and shared!

prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 4 years ago from Tumkur

very good article.

highly usdeful

Kenja profile image

Kenja 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

To the best of my recollection... I have have 4 of the above warning signs. So perhaps it is an aging brain, as opposed to a diseased one. I hope.

Good piece, and helpful. best, Ken (I think that's my name)

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Oh arkirchner, you are great! Actually, reading and writing about this topic is probably not the best thing for my marriage. Since both of my husband's parents had Alzheimer's and so did his grandmother, I think we are already a bit on high alert. Besides that, my husband is just generally a very forgetful person, sort of the typical "absent minded professor." We joke that we won't really be able to recognize the signs because they are already there!

akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

I was going to write something but I forgot what it was...ha ha - that is happening a bit TOO often for me to actually laugh about. One of our best friends has Alzheimer's and it's very sad indeed. He's been forgetting things for years and we just thought it was "cute"--until he was tested. I'm hoping some of the new research helps get a handle on this. Dementia in any form is hard to handle as you watch someone you knew (and who knew you) change and disappear. Great information and I think I should print off the questions and Bob and I should keep track of each other. It's bad when both of you can't remember what you were talking about~ I only hope it's just us being too busy and typical forgetfulness and not the beginning of Alzheimer's but life is short!

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

kittyjj--so sorry to hear about your family's experience. This is a heart breaking disease. My hope is that by understanding more about it, we can have empathy for those who suffer and perhaps get help earlier.

kittyjj profile image

kittyjj 4 years ago from San Jose, California

One of my relatives has Alzheimer's disease. She is in her 80's and can't even remember she has children. It's heart broken to see her treating her family like strangers. Thank you for sharing such an informative hub!

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

kristyleann--thanks for adding your experiences. You are absolutely right that the denial of symptoms causes so much more heartbreak.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for stopping by pringoooals.

VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much eHealer. I think that the earlier we recognize these signs the better off we are in the long run.

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JordanBiggins 4 years ago from Arlington/Waco

This article relates to me in that I have a family member, my grandmother, that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. She has already implemented many tips to help slow down Alzheimer's Disease, including working on memory improvement. What is interesting to me is that it takes four years for the symptoms to become definitive of Alzheimer's Disease. This means that we still need more advancement medical advancement in the field of brain studies.

kristyleann profile image

kristyleann 4 years ago from Oceana, WV

I'm an EMT and CNA and I've worked with many people that have Alzheimer's and these are really good warning signs for people to keep in mind. What breaks my heart is that so many people are ashamed/embarrassed/in denial and refuse to get help. There is no way to prevent it but meds may be able to slow it down and if someone has already been diagnosed with it they can at least learn about it and create a plan with their friends and family on how to best manage it as the disease progresses.

pringoooals profile image

pringoooals 4 years ago from Edinburgh

Very informative and useful article. Gives a clear advice and guidance on the topic. I enjoyed reading it and it helped me a lot. Thank you for sharing! Voted up!

eHealer profile image

eHealer 4 years ago from Las Vegas

Excellent article on the subject. I am afraid I know several people in my immediate family that may be experiencing signs of this awful disease. I am watching and am aware. Thanks for the information that I know I can use. Voted up and shared.

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