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20 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's

Updated on March 4, 2017
VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne was a caregiver for in-laws with Alzheimer's, and she shares her extensive research in dementia and elder care to help others.

Change is the key warning sign. Ask yourself,"Has the person's ability to remember ordinary daily activities changed from before?"

Are You Worried?

Do you have a history of family members with Alzheimer's? Perhaps you are worried that you or someone you love seems to be forgetting more than usual. I was a caregiver for two elderly loved ones with memory loss and this article seeks to help other people have some simple information all on one page that can help them decide if they need to seek additional medical help. I include:

  1. Early warning signs.
  2. Simple, easy memory tests you can give to someone without them necessarily knowing what you are doing.
  3. Explanation of the importance of early detection and what to do about it.
  4. Simple ways to improve cognitive ability.

20 Warning Signs

The key warning sign is change. The earliest symptom of dementia is a weakening in the ability to process information, especially new information. Here are some typical examples:

  1. Losing sense of smell or taste, or changes in those senses.
  2. Having trouble remembering names more than before.
  3. Losing things like car keys or glasses more often than before.
  4. Forgetting where the car is parked more frequently.
  5. Not being able to remember how to get to a store or friend's house.
  6. Not being able to remember the title of a movie that was just watched.
  7. Substituting a word because the person can't remember the one they wanted.
  8. Forgetting appointments or phone calls more frequently.
  9. Needing to re-read something because they forgot it or writing lots of reminders.
  10. Repeating questions because they forgot the answer.
  11. Having people tell them that they already said that.
  12. Feeling depressed without a particular cause.
  13. Not remembering whether they took medications.
  14. Buying too much of something, or buying things they forgot they 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 they started.
  18. Being more irritable and less in control of emotions.
  19. Having more trouble learning a new task, like how to use a new phone.
  20. More difficulty in handling finances than before.

Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Poll

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

See results

Mild Cognitive Impairment

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) which means they:

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

Dementia is defined as significant memory loss which interferes with daily life. About 70% of people with dementia will eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer's (which is one of the main causes of memory loss)

My in-laws could participate in many family events and sometimes seemed the same, even in the middle stages of memory loss.
My in-laws could participate in many family events and sometimes seemed the same, even in the middle stages of memory loss. | Source

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 before.

For example, people with MCI might be able to balance a checkbook but would have trouble keeping track of all their finances and bills. They may not be able to keep good records for their taxes or may spend more money than they have in income.

Early diagnosis of memory impairment can allow for drug and behavioral treatments to delay the onset of more serious symptoms.

MCI Memory Test

One easy test is the MIC 10 item objective recall test. This test asks a person to remember 10 new words after waiting for ten minutes. Most people with normal functioning can remember more than 5. Someone with dementia might not remember any of them, but a person with MCI might remember only 3 or 4. 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.

Scoring:

  • 5 or more, memory is probably in the normal range.
  • 0-4: You may want to get a further assessment from a medical professional.

Memory Assessment Test

Test 1
Test 2
Test 3
concrete
dream
father
bird bath
hat
imagination
cell phone
cloud
tape
tennis shoe
girl
magazine
coffee
tea
button
flag
freedom
fear
walker
scissors
silly
mercy
gallon
boy
dishwasher
rose
break
tulip
job
house
Pick one of the rows and use the list of 10 unrelated words to test for memory loss. Use a different list or make up one of your own to test again.
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

Why MCI is Important to Measure

MCI might be seen as the brain's equivalent to the high blood pressure and high cholesterol. We know that changes in our blood can be invisible symptoms of a potential heart attack and stroke. Similarly, MCI is an invisible symptom of potential memory disease. 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 more serious memory problems. Better yet, sometimes MCI is actually caused by a medical problem or medication which can be treated to reverse the problem. Moreover, even if you don't show signs of MCI, making some healthy changes now can help keep your brain healthy.

Why Early Diagnosis is Important

With some memory training, a person with MCI might be able to improve their ability to retain information even though they may not be able to completely recover their previous abilities.

The bad news: Most people are not correctly diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other memory loss problems until they have a crisis. Often, 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:

  • Get medical attention to see if the memory loss is caused by something reversible like medications, hearing loss, high blood sugar or other problem.
  • Practice the steps of delaying further memory loss which can keep a person independent for longer.
  • Get medical treatment early so that drug therapies which delay dementia work better.
  • Have time to prepare and plan as a family.

 Like many people, we only realized the extent of my in-laws memory problems when they had a crisis while we were on vacation.
Like many people, we only realized the extent of my in-laws memory problems when they had a crisis while we were on vacation. | Source

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Memory

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 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 Mind:

  • 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

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    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 2 years ago from United States

      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 2 years 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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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.

    • profile image

      Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman 4 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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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

      Adrienne F Manson 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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

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

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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 https://healdove.com/older-adults/Test-for-Alzheim...

    • 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

      Gustave Kilthau 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

      Mary Hyatt 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
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 4 years ago from United States

      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.

    • profile image

      Justsilvie 4 years ago

      Very useful article! Voted up and shared!

    • prasadjain profile image

      Dr.S.P.PADMA PRASAD 4 years ago from Tumkur

      very good article.

      highly usdeful

    • Kenja profile image

      Ken Taub 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
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      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

      Audrey Kirchner 5 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
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      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

      Ann Leung 5 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
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

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

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
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      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for stopping by pringoooals.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image
      Author

      Virginia Kearney 5 years ago from United States

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

    • profile image

      Jordan Biggins 5 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

      Kristy LeAnn 5 years ago from Princeton, 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

      Karina 5 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

      Deborah 5 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.