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Alzheimer's Symptoms and Difficult Behaviors

Common symptoms: When they happen, why they happen, and what you can do

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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mid-stage

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Mild-stage Alzheimer's symptoms

During mild-stage Alzheimer's, your loved one will likely be able to manage his or her basic self-care -- what experts refer to as activities of daily living (ADLs) and communicate with you and others fairly well. However, problems with memory or other mental functioning will begin interfering with your loved one's ability to manage instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) -- complex skills usually learned during the teenage years -- such as managing finances, driving, meal preparation, and managing medications.


Memory symptoms

The ability to retain immediate memories will increasingly affect your loved one's short-term thinking. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Other thinking skills

Brain changes will increasingly affect many cognitive (thinking) skills beyond memory. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Emotions and social life

Awareness that something seems wrong, plus the effort of compensating for brain changes, will increasingly affect your loved one's mood and behavior -- often in ways that might surprise you or that you might not associate with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Self-care symptoms

Skills erode subtly during mild-stage Alzheimer's, but in most cases it will still be possible for your loved one to handle basic needs -- such as getting dressed, toileting, and eating -- without much, if any, help. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

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Moderate-stage Alzheimer's symptoms

During moderate-stage Alzheimer's, your loved one will no longer be able to manage the complex instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as driving or managing money, without significant help -- if at all. Deterioration of mental functioning means that he or she will increasingly need help with even simpler self-care tasks known as the activities of daily living (ADLs) -- basic skills first learned in early childhood, such as grooming, bathing, dressing, and toileting. You may see odd or surprising behaviors that can be challenging to deal with.

Memory symptoms

New memories, for the most part, will no longer be retained, and recent memory will shrink, too, so that your loved one's recollections of the distant past will become more vivid than more recent events and faces. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Other thinking skills

More than memory will be altered; many aspects of higher-order thinking will no longer function well. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Emotions and social life

Awareness of having dementia will seem gone, but your loved one will remain vulnerable to frustration, fear, anger, and other emotions (both positive and negative). These feelings are often expressed as problem behaviors. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Self-care symptoms

Your loved one will need help handling most basic care tasks. He or she may still perform some skills with help, while other skills will require almost constant monitoring, coaching, and assistance. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do:

Are you seeing a symptom not on this list? Tell us, so we can add it.

Severe-stage Alzheimer's symptoms

By severe-stage Alzheimer's, your loved one will be unable to perform even the common activities of daily living, such as self-feeding, grooming, and toileting. Increasingly, the most basic life skills, like those learned in the first years of life -- speech, mobility, continence -- will be affected. This change requires constant, active care.

Memory symptoms

Limited communication will make it hard to assess your loved one's mental state, but few if any memories -- recent ones or those from early life -- will be apparent. Click on the symptom below to learn more about what to expect and what to do.

Other thinking skills

Brain changes will progress to the point where all cognitive skills will be significantly impaired. This makes communication challenging. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do.

Emotions and social life

Despite a limited ability to connect at this stage of Alzheimer's, the person beneath the illness will probably still be evident at times. It takes increasing skill and effort to "read" mood and personality. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do.

Self-care symptoms

Brain changes will lead to other physical changes that make 24-hour care necessary. Click on any of the symptoms, below, to learn more about what to expect and what to do.

Are you seeing a symptom not on this list? Tell us, so we can add it.