Early-stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s and how to spot them

Posted on: 5/09/2022

Are you worried about your mental sharpness? Or maybe that of a loved one’s? Forgetfulness is often a normal part of aging; if you have trouble remembering someone's name but it comes to you later, that's not a serious memory problem.

If memory problems are seriously affecting your daily life, however, they could be early signs of Alzheimer's disease. While the number of symptoms you have and how apparent they are may vary, it’s important to identify the early signs.

If you notice any of these early signs of Alzheimer's disease in yourself or someone you know, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Memory loss

Memory loss is often the first and main symptom in early Alzheimer’s disease. For example, a person may not recall recent events or may keep losing items (such as keys and glasses) around the house.

Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same questions over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

What's a typical age-related change?

Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.

Difficulties in thinking things through and planning

Some people living with Alzheimer's may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

What's a typical age-related change?

Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills.

Problems with language and communication

People living with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have trouble naming a familiar object or use the wrong name (e.g., calling a "watch" a "hand-clock").

What's a typical age-related change?

Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

Visual-perceptual difficulties

People with Alzheimer's experience changes in how they perceive things. This includes misperceptions and misidentifications, hallucinations, delusions and time-shifting.

These problems can cause the person with Alzheimer's to say or do things that do not make sense to others. This can be frustrating, confusing and upsetting for the person, and for carers, especially if the person is experiencing a different reality to yours.

What's a typical age-related change?

As we age, there is increased need for perceptual aids such as glasses and hearing aids, and we start to find cognitive tasks such as paying attention and remembering more difficult.

Difficulty completing familiar tasks

People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, organising a grocery list or remembering the rules of a favourite game.

What's a typical age-related change?

Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show.

Withdrawal from work or social activities

A person living with Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in the ability to hold or follow a conversation. As a result, he or she may withdraw from hobbies, social activities or other engagements. They may have trouble keeping up with a favourite team or activity.

What's a typical age-related change?

Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations.

Decreased or poor judgement

One of the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease is poor or decreased judgment and trouble with decision-making. This symptom can sometimes even precede any memory loss, so it might not be apparent that it’s a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. A person with Alzheimer’s disease might start giving money away or be conned by an email scam, or they might decide it’s not necessary to bathe or change clothes daily because they can’t decide what to wear.

What's a typical age-related change?

Making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car.

Changes in mood and personality

Individuals living with Alzheimer’s may experience mood and personality changes. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when out of their comfort zone.

Other signs include: pacing, obsessing over minor details, agitation, fear, confusion, rage and feeling overwhelmed because they're trying to make sense of a world that's now confusing to them.

What's a typical age-related change?

Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Confusion with time and place

People living with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

What's a typical age-related change?

Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

A person living with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. He or she may accuse others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses.

What's a typical age-related change?

Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

The early-stage of Alzheimer’s disease lasts on average between 2 – 4 years. An early diagnosis opens the door to future care and treatment. It helps people to plan ahead while they are still able to make important decisions on their care and support needs and on financial and legal matters. It also helps them and their families to receive practical information, advice and guidance as they face new challenges.

At Progress Lifeline, we are here to help. Over on our dedicated Dementia page, we have several resources to help you if you are worried about yourself or a loved one. If you’d like further information about assistive technology and the options available to you and your loved ones, email us at contact@progresslifeline.org.ukor call us on 03333 204 999.