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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer's Disease - Symptoms

Memory loss is usually the first sign of Alzheimer's disease. Having some short-term memory loss in your 60s and 70s is common, but this doesn't mean it's Alzheimer's disease.

Compare these examples of normal memory problems and the types of memory problems that may be caused by Alzheimer's disease.

Symptoms of normal forgetfulness versus Alzheimer's disease

In normal forgetfulness, the person may forget:

In Alzheimer's disease, the person may forget:

Parts of an experience.An entire experience.
Where the car is parked.What the car looks like.
A person's name, but remember it later.Ever having known a particular person.

Alzheimer's disease also causes changes in thinking, behavior, and personality. Close family members and friends may first notice these symptoms, although the person may also realize that something is wrong.

Following are some of the symptoms of the different stages of Alzheimer's disease. They vary as the disease progresses. Talk to your doctor if a friend or family member has any of the signs.

Mild Alzheimer's disease

Usually, a person with mild Alzheimer's disease:

  • Avoids new and unfamiliar situations.
  • Has delayed reactions and slowed learning ability.
  • Begins speaking more slowly than in the past.
  • Starts using poor judgment and making inappropriate decisions.
  • May have mood swings and become depressed, irritable, or restless.

These symptoms often are more obvious when the person is in a new and unfamiliar place or situation.

Some people have memory loss called mild cognitive impairment. People with this condition are at risk for Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia. But not all people with mild cognitive impairment progress to dementia.

Moderate Alzheimer's disease

With moderate Alzheimer's disease, a person typically:

  • Has problems recognizing close friends and family.
  • Becomes more restless, especially in late afternoon and at night. This is called sundowning.
  • Has problems reading, writing, and dealing with numbers.
  • Has trouble dressing.
  • Cannot work simple appliances such as a microwave.

Severe Alzheimer's disease

With severe Alzheimer's disease, a person usually:

  • Can no longer remember how to bathe, eat, dress, or go to the bathroom independently.
  • No longer knows when to chew and swallow.
  • Has trouble with balance or walking and may fall frequently.
  • Becomes more confused in the evening (sundowning) and has trouble sleeping.
  • Cannot communicate using words.
  • Loses bowel or bladder control (incontinence).

Other conditions with similar symptoms

Early in the disease, Alzheimer's usually doesn't affect a person's fine motor skills (such as the ability to button or unbutton clothes or use utensils) or sense of touch. So a person who develops motor symptoms (such as weakness or shaking hands) or sensory symptoms (such as numbness) probably has a condition other than Alzheimer's disease. Conditions such as Parkinson's disease, for instance, may cause motor symptoms along with dementia.

Other conditions with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease may include:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 29, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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