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13 Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

couple looking at tablet together

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, making it one of the most feared and misunderstood diagnoses – for patients and, perhaps even more so, for their loved ones.

“Everyone is at risk because age is the biggest risk factor," says neuropsychiatrist Brian Appleby, MD. "The frequency of it increases significantly after age 65. One-third of people older than age 85 will experience it.”

Among the other risk factors are:

  • Vascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Lower educational level
  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Being female

Warning Signs

“Alzheimer's disease is a progressive brain disease that causes progressive memory loss and decline in daily function,” Dr. Appleby says.

Someone you love may be developing Alzheimer’s if he or she has several of these 13 early signs:

  1. Constantly repeats himself or asks you to repeat information you’ve conveyed moments earlier
  2. Forgets appointments
  3. Has difficulty coming up with words, including the names of friends and family
  4. Skips medications or takes the wrong dose
  5. Ignores or double pays bills
  6. Can’t explain new scratches on her car
  7. Misplaces items
  8. Has difficulty doing familiar tasks
  9. Confuses time and place
  10. Wanders
  11. Withdraws from friends and family
  12. Neglects grooming/hygiene
  13. Skips meals

“In most cases, it’s not the patient who picks up on it because it’s hard to remember what you don’t remember,” Dr. Appleby says. “Especially in the older population, a loved one usually picks up on it first.”

Alzheimer’s Screenings

If you suspect a loved one may be displaying early signs of the disease, Dr. Appleby suggests expressing your concerns, although the loved one may not recognize the symptoms or remember the conversation.

Then, accompany your loved one to an appointment with her primary care doctor, who may order a work-up that includes a cognitive screening test to determine whether there’s evidence of cognitive impairment beyond what would be expected for her age.

Blood work may be ordered to rule out other conditions that could cause cognitive decline, such as a vitamin deficiency or thyroid issue. Your loved one may be screened for depression or undergo an MRI, CT or neuropsychological testing.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Patients

Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it may be possible to slow down its progression by taking medications, eating a healthy diet, increasing exercise, adopting good sleep habits, seeking active cognitive engagement, and maintaining social connections.

Eventually, however, it will be necessary to ensure your loved one is in a safe environment, possibly staying at home with an aide, moving in with relatives, or moving to a long-term nursing facility.

In time, she may have difficulty communicating, not recognize loved ones, be verbally or physically aggressive, become immobile and/or be unable to groom or feed herself.

Brian Appleby, MD is a neuropsychiatrist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can Request an Appointment with Dr. Appleby or or any other University Hospitals doctor online.