Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease is memory loss

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Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Long before the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear, toxic changes occur in the brain. Amyloid plaques and tau tangles form due to abnormal deposits of two proteins – beta-amyloid and tau. These protein accumulations prevent the normal connections and functioning between neurons resulting in nerve cell death and brain atrophy. The hippocampus is initially affected, causing the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s, before the damage spreads to other areas of the brain, ultimately resulting in a significantly shrunken brain in severely affected patients. The clinical duration of the disease is usually between eight to ten years.

Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms – Mild Alzheimer’s Disease

Although the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease vary from person to person, the most common initial sign is memory loss. Memory problems are also associated with a separate condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Older people with MCI are also at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Most late-onset Alzheimer’s patients are diagnosed in their mid-60s in these early stages of the disease.

For some individuals, the early signs of Alzheimer’s do not affect their memory and instead they experience one or more of the other warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These are the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease (adapted from alz.org).

  • Memory loss that disturbs daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks at home, at work or leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images of spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawals from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood or personality

Mid Stage Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms – Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease

As the brain damage progresses to areas affecting language, reasoning and conscious thought, the memory loss worsens and further problems occur. Patients at this stage begin to have trouble recognizing family and friends, and they may be unable to learn new things or become distressed in new environments. Other symptoms can include hallucinations, agitation, delusions and paranoia.

Advanced Stage Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms – Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

By this stage the plaques and tangles affect the majority of the brain tissue and significant atrophy has occurred. Patients are unable to communicate and rely on others for their everyday care. Eventually they will become bedridden as the body shuts down and death usually results from general inanition, malnutrition and pneumonia.

Next, Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease »

Recommended Links: Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center – A service of the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.