Identifying symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EARLY ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND FORGETFULNESS

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 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.

STAGES OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

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:

  • Losing or misplacing things
  • Becoming confused in familiar places
  • Taking longer to carry out everyday tasks
  • Changes in mood

In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the problems with memory become more pronounced and other cognitive processes also start to become affected. People may:

  • Tell the same stories or ask the same question repeatedly
  • Have difficulty recognising family members or friends
  • Have word-finding difficulties or non-fluent speech
  • Show a lack of concern over their appearance
  • Experience changes in mood and personality

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:

  • Be unable to remember their own name or recognise close family members
  • Suffer from bladder and bowel incontinence
  • Experience visual/auditory hallucinations
  • Develop repetitive or ritualistic behaviours
  • Need help with even the most basic activities of daily living

If you recognise signs of memory loss in a loved one that keeps on getting worse, to the point you are concerned, 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.

  1. Dementia Australia 2019, ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ viewed 21st May 2019, https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/alzheimers-disease