The earliest symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is usually short term memory loss. People living with Alzheimer’s disease will typically forget what they did recently but may remember events from years ago in great detail. This can make people think that there can’t be anything wrong with their memory if they can recall information from so long ago. However it is this loss of short term memory that usually occurs early and which is so characteristic of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
We all forget things from time to time and this forgetfulness tends to increase with age. It can be difficult to judge whether this forgetfulness is a part of normal ageing. Typically it is the ‘depth’ of the memory loss that differs in ‘normal forgetfulness’ versus that due to Alzheimer’s disease.
A person with ‘normal forgetfulness’ can usually still remember other facts associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, they may briefly forget their neighbour’s name but that the person they are talking to is their neighbour. A person with Alzheimer’s disease will often forget not only their neighbour’s name, but also the context in which they know them.
Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways. There are, however, stages that many people will progress through and these reflect the movement of the disease through the brain. The symptoms that someone is experiencing will therefore often change, depending on the stage of their disease.
In the very early stages, day-to-day memory problems dominate but these can be subtle so it can be hard to tell if they are due to the normal ageing process.
Early warning signs to look out for include:
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the problems with memory become more pronounced and other cognitive processes also start to become affected.
In this stage, the disease spreads to engulf most parts of the brain and the person has what is termed ‘a global dementia’. All areas of cognition are severely affected but there are also problems with physical functioning.
People at this stage of disease may:
If you recognise signs of memory loss in a loved one that keeps on getting worse, to the point you are concerned about it, it is strongly recommended that you make an appointment to see a doctor for an assessment. The earlier that Alzheimer’s Disease is diagnosed, the more can be done to manage it.