Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
Memory changes with aging happen to everyone. People with Alzheimer’s Disease, however, have severe problems with reasoning, memory and language. These changes seriously affect the person’s ability to work, to communicate with others and to care for himself. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a list of ten warning signs that help to show the difference between changes due to aging and those due to AD.
These warning signs are:
1. Memory loss. The person with AD forgets recently obtained information.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks. Even simple everyday tasks are hard for the person with AD to complete.
3. Problems with language. The person with AD often has trouble finding the correct word for even common items such as a toothbrush.
4. Disorientation to time and place (e.g. forgetting what day it is, getting lost) happens often.
5. Poor or decreased judgment. The person with AD may show poor judgment in many aspects of everyday life (e.g. dresses oddly, gives away valuable belongings).
6. Problems with abstract thinking. Handling personal finances (e.g. not paying the bills, paying too much for purchases) becomes a struggle.
7. Misplaced belongings. Items may be often lost or placed in odd places.
8. Changes in mood or behavior. Rapid mood swings (e.g. crying, aggression) with no obvious reason may be common.
9. Changes in personality. Confusion, suspicion, withdrawal may be evident.
10. Loss of initiative. Some people with AD may sleep for long periods of time and not want to do much of anything when awake.
3 Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s Disease starts out slowly and worsens over time. Different methods of staging have been used to show how the disease progresses. One staging system divides the disease process into seven stages. Another system uses three stages – early, middle, and late – to describe the common changes that occur as the disease progresses over time. Keep in mind that the symptoms occur at different times for persons with AD. As well, symptoms from one stage often overlap with symptoms from another stage of the disease.
Symptoms in the early stage coincide with the warning signs outlined by the Alzheimer’s Association. Mild forgetfulness is one of the first signs of AD. Although this happens to all of us at some time, it happens more often to someone with AD. The person may forget names, appointments, and telephone numbers.
Someone with AD will have difficulty with new learning and the memory problems will worsen over time. The person may forget the correct names of simple everyday objects. Items may be forgotten or misplaced. For example, the newspaper may be placed in the refrigerator or the butter in the laundry basket. At first, the person with AD will be concerned about the memory lapses and decreasing ability to perform tasks that were once easily completed. This knowledge may cause a great deal of stress.
Judgment may be impaired. The ability to do well in demanding job situations will decrease. Help may be needed with handling money and performing tasks that require abstract thinking. Some of the other symptoms common at this stage include trouble concentrating, getting lost easily, and forgetting the date and time. Shifts in mood, restlessness, anxiety, and mild coordination problems may also occur.
At this stage, the person with AD will have great trouble organizing her thoughts. The person forgets where she is and doesn’t remember what day or month it is. Sleep may be disturbed and the person may mix up day and night. Wandering behavior is common. Sexual behavior may be inappropriate. Memory worsens to the point that the AD individual may no longer know her family members. Help with simple tasks like dressing, bathing, and toileting will be needed.
Marked personality changes become apparent over time. Rapid changes in mood, such as aggression or severe anxiety, can happen for no obvious reason. The person may be suspicious and experience delusions. The personality changes and challenging behaviors may cause a great deal of anxiety for family members and healthcare workers.
As the disease advances, the person with AD may become unable to walk or to speak, except for possibly a few simple words. There may be difficulties with eating. The ability to remember will be lost and the person will require help with all aspects of personal care. Loss of bowel and bladder control occurs.
Even though physical and mental abilities have decreased greatly at this stage, there may be a reaction to music and touch. There may also be some response to emotion.
People with AD generally live for eight to 12 years following diagnosis. However, this time frame can vary greatly with some people living 20 years or more with the disease.