Alzheimer's Disease

  • Medical Author: Howard Crystal, MD
  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick Guide to Dementia

Quick GuideA Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's Disease

A Caregiver's Guide to Alzheimer's Disease

Ten warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

The following list of warning signs include common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals who exhibit several of these symptoms should see a physician for a complete evaluation.

  1. Memory loss (forgetting important dates or events)
  2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks (problems remembering the rules to a favorite game or driving to a familiar place)
  3. Problems talking with others or writing (For example, a person may struggle to find the right words for items or names of people or places.)
  4. Disorientation to time and place (for example, forgetting where they are, loosing track of the seasons, dates, and passage of time)
  5. Poor or decreased judgment (for example, poor hygiene or poor judgment when dealing with money or financial matters)
  6. Vision problems (problems reading or judging distances)
  7. Problems with solving problems or planning (for example, problems tracking regular bills or following familiar recipes)
  8. Misplacing things (for example, a person put items in unusual places and then are not able to retrace their steps find them again)
  9. Changes in mood, personality, or behavior
  10. Loss of initiative or withdrawal from social or work activities

It is normal for certain kinds of memory, such as the ability to remember lists of words, to decline with normal aging. In fact, normal individuals 50 years of age will recall only about 60% as many items on some kinds of memory tests as individuals 20 years of age. Furthermore, everyone forgets, and every 20 year old is well aware of multiple times he or she couldn't think of an answer on a test that he or she once knew. Almost no 20 year old worries when he/she forgets something, that he/she has the 'early stages of Alzheimer's disease,' whereas an individual 50 or 60 years of age with a few memory lapses may worry that they have the 'early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

What are the stages of Alzheimer's disease?

The onset of Alzheimer's disease is usually gradual, and it is slowly progressive. Memory problems that family members initially dismiss as "a normal part of aging" are in retrospect noted by the family to be the first stages of Alzheimer's disease. When memory and other problems with thinking start to consistently affect the usual level of functioning; families begin to suspect that something more than "normal aging" is going on.

Problems of memory, particularly for recent events (short-term memory) are common early in the course of Alzheimer's disease. For example, the individual may, on repeated occasions, forget to turn off an iron or fail to recall which of the morning's medicines were taken. Mild personality changes, such as less spontaneity, apathy, and a tendency to withdraw from social interactions, may occur early in the illness.

As the disease progresses, problems in abstract thinking and in other intellectual functions develop. The person may begin to have trouble with figures when working on bills, with understanding what is being read, or with organizing the day's work. Further disturbances in behavior and appearance may also be seen at this point, such as agitation, irritability, quarrelsomeness, and a diminishing ability to dress appropriately.

Later in the course of the disorder, affected individuals may become confused or disoriented about what month or year it is, be unable to describe accurately where they live, or be unable to name a place being visited. Eventually, patients may wander, be unable to engage in conversation, erratic in mood, uncooperative, and lose bladder and bowel control. In late stages of the disease, persons may become totally incapable of caring for themselves. Death can then follow, perhaps from pneumonia or some other problem that occurs in severely deteriorated states of health. Those who develop the disorder later in life more often die from other illnesses (such as heart disease) rather than as a consequence of Alzheimer's disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/17/2015

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