Early Signs

Although Alzheimer's disease does start slowly, certain outward signs and symptoms will eventually become more noticeable. Look for the following early signs outlined below.

Then, either fill out the Dementia Symptoms Checklists on this website, or keep track of any signs you may see in the Symptom Diary available on this website. If you complete the Dementia Symptoms Checklist about yourself and find that you answer ‘sometimes' or ‘often' to some of the questions, you should speak to your doctor about the signs you have noticed. If you complete the Dementia Symptoms Checklist about someone you care for and the score is 4 or 5, you and/or the person you care for should speak to a doctor about the signs you have noticed.

1. Memory loss affects daily life

Everyone forgets a phone number or the last name of an acquaintance from time to time. But they usually remember it later on. In Alzheimer's disease, though, people tend to:

  • forget things more often than usual – especially things that have happened most recently
  • repeat things over and over again, sometimes in the same conversation
  • have difficulty remembering how to do things they have done all of their lives, like following a recipe or writing a letter

2. Familiar tasks become more difficult

It's normal to get caught up in the day-to-day and do things like forgetting to take lunch to work. But in Alzheimer's disease, people often:

  • are less able to plan, problem solve, organise and think logically
  • find it increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks such as paying bills or dressing appropriately for the weather
  • have problems with money and everyday arithmetic problems

3. Language becomes a problem

Anyone can lose their train of thought or have trouble finding the right word, but people with Alzheimer's disease might:

  • substitute words or forget simple terms for things, and their sentences can become difficult to understand
  • make up words or stop talking to avoid mistakes
  • have trouble following or understanding a conversation
  • have increasing difficulty understanding books, newspapers and other reading material

4. Disorientation of place and time

We all can forget where we're headed or the date for a minute or two. With Alzheimer's disease, people can:

  • become disoriented – even in familiar places, like their own neighbourhood
  • forget what day, month or year it is

5. Poor judgment

While anyone can leave the house in a coat that's not warm enough, impaired judgment affects people with Alzheimer's disease. They might, for instance:

  • wear light clothing on a very cold day
  • not realise when they have an injury that requires a doctor's attention

6. Problems with abstract thinking

Sometimes people have difficulty balancing their cheque book, but someone with Alzheimer's disease:

  • experiences problems with abstract thought such as looking forward to a future event
  • might not know what the numbers in the cheque book mean at all

7. Lost or misplaced items

While it's normal to misplace your car keys or your gym shoes, someone with Alzheimer's disease might:

  • misplace things by placing them in strange places (like putting a book in the fridge or keys in the sugar jar)

8. Behaviour and mood changes

While anyone can become moody, a person with Alzheimer's disease can:

  • suffer mood swings with no apparent reason – so they may go from calm to anger to tears without knowing why
  • exhibit repetitive behaviour

9. Shifts in personality

Our personalities have many different facets, and that's normal. But an individual living with Alzheimer's disease might:

  • act out of character
  • appear fearful for no apparent reason
  • become apathetic, confused or suspicious
  • withdraw from people and social situations

10. Difficulty with initiative

It's not always easy to motivate yourself to do things like mow the lawn on a hot day. But a person with Alzheimer's disease might:

  • become very passive
  • require prompting or cues to become involved in anything from social activities to housework
  • defer to others and become increasingly unable to make decisions
  • avoid change and have trouble concentrating and learning new things

Responses to the Dementia Symptoms Checklist do not determine a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer's disease – they may simply suggest the need for further assessment.