Warning signs are often the first things people notice – either in themselves or a relative – that may indicate that someone has Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the ten classic warning signs of AD are:
1. Memory loss – People with Alzheimer’s Disease show signs of memory problems, particularly difficulty with remembering recently learned information (e.g., a news story from earlier that morning). While it is normal to occasionally forget phone numbers or appointments, those with AD gradually forget more and more, and are unable to recall forgotten information at a later time.
2. Problems carrying out familiar tasks – People with Alzheimer’s start having problems planning and completing chores such as fixing meals or paying bills. While it is normal to occasionally become sidetracked or distracted while you are doing something, those with Alzheimer’s will be unable to regain their bearings or follow through with a task.
3. Language/communication difficulties – Mild aphasia (a difficulty with naming common objects or people) is a common warning sign of Alzheimer’s Disease. While it is normal to have trouble coming up with the right word to express your thoughts periodically, people with AD have significant trouble communicating and understanding what is being communicated to them.
4. Disorientation – People with Alzheimer’s often become confused about time and place. For example, they may not know the current time, day, date, month, season, and/or year. They may also be confused about, or unaware of, where they are in regard to a building/residence, a particular street, city, state, or country. While it is normal to temporarily forget where you are headed, or to forget the date, those with Alzheimer’s might become lost on the way to the grocery store and be unable to make it back home.
5. Lapses in judgment – Individuals showing early signs of Alzheimer’s may start making unwise personal, social, or financial decisions. For example, they might wear a winter coat during the summer or make sexual advances toward a restaurant server. While we all make questionable choices from time to time, people with AD have major lapses in judgment that are departures from their previous behavior.
6. Decreased ability to think abstractly – People with Alzheimer’s will have problems completing complex intellectual tasks, such as estimating the total cost of several items at the store. While it is normal to momentarily forget the answer to an arithmetic problem or to make an error while balancing the checkbook, individuals with AD not only can’t balance a checkbook, but they no longer understand what the numbers in the register represent.
7. Misplacing objects – A common early sign of Alzheimer’s disease is losing common possessions and not being able to find them again, usually because the object has been put in an illogical place. For instance, people with AD might lose a hair dryer because they put it in the washing machine and forgot it was there. It is PERFECTLY NORMAL to lose your keys or wallet occasionally! However, people with AD are not able to find the item again.
8. Alterations in mood and/or behavior – People with Alzheimer’s may become extremely moody, switching between emotions such as anger and elation within a matter of seconds. While it is normal to occasionally feel down in the dumps or giddy, individuals with AD may show inexplicable emotions and/or shift between them unpredictably.
9. Sudden shifts in personality – Individuals with Alzheimer’s often exhibit a drastic change in personality. For instance, people who were always very independent and confident may become overly dependent and suspicious. While it is normal to occasionally feel out of sorts and act differently (particularly when we are sick, are stressed, or have suffered a loss), this feeling is usually temporary. People with AD experience permanent changes in their general behavior or ways of relating to others.
10. Apathy/loss of initiative – Increased passivity is a common early sign of Alzheimer’s. For instance, people with AD might watch television for several hours a day, avoid participating in activities they used to enjoy, or sleep most of the time. While it is normal to feel tired now and then, people with Alzheimer’s will exhibit apathy to a degree that negatively affects their ability to complete daily tasks and chores.