Alzheimer’s Signs and Symptoms

What are some typical signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Signs and diagnosis

Virtually everyone experiences some subtle memory troubles as they get older. This is normal, and part of what makes Alzheimer’s disease difficult to identify in its early stages.

The classic distinction with Alzheimer’s is that one of the very earliest symptoms is difficulty in forming new memories – what will appear to be short-term memory loss. Other early signs can be place confusion (not recognizing familiar surroundings or becoming easily lost), difficulty with words, and trouble with basic math.

The most definitive method for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is through autopsy after death, by examining brain tissue. However, using the following methods, doctors can give an accurate diagnosis to a living person:

  • Ruling out other possible problems through standard medical tests, brain scans (CT or MRI), and study of medical history

  • Testing cerebrospinal fluid for levels of tau proteins (the presence of which indicate Alzheimer’s pathology) through lumbar puncture, a minimally invasive procedure

  • Conducting memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language tests

  • Asking questions about behavior and ability to carry out daily activities

Symptoms

While Alzheimer’s disease usually first manifests itself as a problem with making new memories, other symptoms will gradually develop and worsen. It is important to remember that this disease affects everyone differently.

Common early-stage symptoms are increasing issues with learning and memory, as well as language problems (such as shrinking vocabulary).

The middle stage of the disease will show a worsening of these symptoms, loss of reading and writing skills, difficulty with complex motor tasks, and loss of previously intact long-term memories. It is also more common at this stage to see changes in behavior and personality. Many with Alzheimer’s experience sundowning, or increased confusion and unrest in the evening.

In the late stages of Alzheimer’s, the person will have very reduced language capabilities, severe memory loss, and little mobility. Behavioral changes are generally manifested as apathy and inactivity. People with late-stage Alzheimer’s are completely reliant on caregivers.