5 Signs of Alzheimer's That Sometimes Show up Before Memory Loss

Forgetfulness isn't always the first sign of dementia.


Memory loss is the symptom everybody worried about Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia seems to focus on. After all, it's distressing -- and increasingly obvious. Yet there are other common symptoms of Alzheimer's or dementia that can turn up even earlier, researchers say.

Sometimes, according to memory experts, even doctors miss early dementia signs because they're focused on memory loss to the exclusion of other symptoms.

In fact, in 2011 Spanish researchers found that more than a third of adults who go on to develop early-onset Alzheimer's (the kind that appears before age 65) have the following symptoms early in the disease, even before memory loss is apparent. These symptoms can also be the first to appear among adults who develop Alzheimer's after age 65.

Of course, if you notice any of these symptoms, it's important to have them checked out by a doctor, psychologist, or other expert in cognition and the brain.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Early sign of dementia #1: Personality change

A warm, friendly loved one may seem to morph into a bit of a grouch -- at first occasionally, and then increasingly. A gregarious person still jokes and talks a lot but begins to say inappropriate things or make odd accusations. A mild-mannered loved one begins cursing. All of these are examples of the kinds of personality changes that can predate memory loss in someone with dementia. Often, it's only later that friends and family look back and realize that behaviors they found off-putting or upsetting weren't intentional but related to the Alzheimer's.

Early sign of dementia #2: Problems with executive functioning

Trouble carrying out basic, familiar tasks can creep up slowly but surely. The person may, for example, have difficulty doing something that involves multiple steps, like following written directions or instructions. A longtime cook may avoid complicated recipes. A hobbyist may simplify the form of his or her craft.

Other hallmark trouble areas: making plans and not following through, whether for a vacation or an activity. Not tracking bills. Not being able to solve simple problems, such as mending a broken piece of machinery he or she could once fix easily.

Early sign of dementia #3: Vision problems

Problems with depth perception or visual-spatial coordination can precede memory problems. The person may have trouble driving or even walking well without tripping on stairs. It can be hard to judge distances or see contrasts between like colors, which can lead to accidents. In a more severe example of a perception problem, the person may not recognize himself or herself in a mirror or when passing his or her reflection in a building or window on the street.

Early sign of dementia #4: Language problems

Word retrieval and getting out the right words can become apparent before friends and family notice the more common communication problem of repeating stories or questions. For example the person having trouble may stop in the middle of a sentence, unable to think of the next word. (This can happen to anyone, but when it's a sign of dementia, it happens with alarming frequency, and sometimes the person isn't even aware of doing it.) Or the wrong word may come out -- "mouth cleaner" for "toothbrush" or "picture stick" for "TV remote control."

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Early sign of dementia #5: Social withdrawal

Early in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, the person is often well aware that something is amiss, even if he or she isn't exactly sure of the source of the problem. It can be frightening to feel that you're not quite in control of your faculties all of the time. This can cause the person to use more and more energy to stay in self-command. That leaves less energy to interact with others. Sometimes the person isn't even aware that he or she seems to be losing interest in friends and family, because he or she is concentrating so hard on just getting through the day.

Social withdrawal can also be caused by a desire to avoid embarrassment or by depression -- which often develops alongside dementia.


3 months ago, said...

I am not going to make this. A ring for mom at home. I just can't do it and I feel guilty. I am 58 and sick as well..I just can't...


4 months ago, said...

Mother diagnosed with vascular dementia about 3 years ago so wanting to prepare myself. She is now 81 and very alert so consider we are both pretty lucky. However the signs are beginning to show. She has forgetten that her 3 daughters have booked her in to see Rod Stewart this month as a birthday treat with us all but she booked a trip abroad as didn't remember any of the discussions and arrangements about staying in her house etc.


almost 2 years ago, said...

it helped me to notice symptoms in future referrence


almost 2 years ago, said...

Very handy, I can particularly relate #5. Its so very true


almost 2 years ago, said...

Teepa Snow has terrific DVDs or online about the beginning, middle and late stages. I saw her DVD and recognized things that Mom did years ago. She works with patients and caregivers teaching them how to interact. She's terrific.


almost 2 years ago, said...

I feel this is extremely well written . . . and detailed . May God bless you . mlharvilleusa


almost 2 years ago, said...

Recognising these signs well, in particular #5 Social Withdrawal. It does not make it good for the Carer


almost 2 years ago, said...

I'm at an age when this is vitally important for me and for those around me...to detect changes that may indicate early signs of dementia. Early treatment is important and can often stave off more severe symptoms...at least for a time. Thank you for this information.


over 2 years ago, said...

My mom and my mother-in-law have a couple of the signs, so now I'll pay closer attention to them to see if they get worse. Thanks for the tips.


over 2 years ago, said...

Peple often ask me, using one word, what is my secret to get to 96 where I am now. I tell them that if I am limited to one word exercise is the most important thing you can do. And I've been doing that since I was 40, (That's 54 years ago.!) Of course, it's simplistic to say that nothing more is involved. There are many variables in play as you age, sole beyond your control. It would be simplistic to say also, statisically that exercise is the only variable. (However,) out of 10 children in my family, all except me, died of some disease .... alzheimer's (4), dementia (2), parkingsons (1), heart attack (1), kidney failue (1), accident (1) and stroke.(1). (I've included my parents.) My brother died at 98 having suffered a stroke and dementia. He and I are the only ones who made it into the 90s. I am the only one who used exercise and nutritional supplements in the course of living for over 70 years. You can draw our own conclusions about heredity and other factors.


over 2 years ago, said...

I am an avid reader of your well-researched and written reports. However, could you append a list of your sources? Thanks.


over 2 years ago, said...

It should be emphasized that these are symptoms that can develop very early in the progression of Alzheimer's -- but these symptoms CANNOT be used to diagnose Alzheimer's nor does it mean that you or your loved one has Alzheimer's just because one or more of these symptoms are present. Many different conditions can cause them. What is very useful about this article (thank you, Paula) is that so very many people -- many doctors included -- think that short term memory loss is the first symptom to emerge. In fact, many other symptoms, such as those described in the article, can and often do emerge first or at the same time as memory loss. One early symptom that is very common and should be emphasized is difficulty handling finances.


over 2 years ago, said...

It is good to have confirmation of the early signs of a potential problem.


over 2 years ago, said...

I see Mom in almost all of these items.


over 2 years ago, said...

You left out the loss of the sense of smell. Apparently that's been recently identified as another warning sign. My husband is in the moderate stage of A's D now, but his sense of smell all but vanished a decade and a half ago, which corresponds to the time that his secretary at the office had to be carefully chosen to keep him focused and remind him of appointments etc. Anecdotal, but true.


almost 3 years ago, said...

The article also describes many of the symptoms of Dementia with Lewy Bodies, the second most common form of dementia, after Alzheimer's. A person with DLB, also called LBD, Lewy Body Dementia, has periods of fluctuating symptoms. Sometimes, they can be 'sharp as a tack' and other times, almost totally confused. Hallucinations may also be present. Sleep problems too. For more info, go to the Lewy Body Dementia Association website, www.lbda.org. There is a good book on Amazon, The Caregivers Guide to Lewy Body Dementia.


almost 3 years ago, said...

My problem is knowing that some of the characteristics of Alzheimer's are manifest in me or not. I'm 85 1/2 and am writing my 4th book [fiction], Isn't it common to sometimes have a memory lapse of names etc? I live alone, have a dog, drive a van, read a lot, do my own thing including maintenance on my mobile and do all my own meals. Like your column. Roger.


almost 3 years ago, said...

Confirming what I have been seeing in my husband's behavior patterns.


almost 3 years ago, said...

It often is difficult to admit to somebody jkust why you have or are withdrawing socially;yet I admit it is true. Why embarass yourself, especially when you formerly were seen as a social leader or as an extrovert ?


almost 3 years ago, said...

Absolutely amazing...I have all of the above. For sometime now, I've wondered and even discussed it with my Psychologist, but he didn't seem concerned. I think I'll take the article with me tomorrow and let him read it just to get his opinion.


almost 3 years ago, said...

DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS FACT......THANKS


almost 3 years ago, said...

I'm 71 years old and live alone. I've researched my family history looking for dementia, or other diseases with symptoms that resemble Alzheimer's. I've found no evidence at all, but several antecedents were described as somewhat "crazy". Several of these I've attributed to other of their predilections, like excessive alcoholism. Since I'm not the latest example of the "town drunk", I think I'm doing OK, so far... But I keep reading, and thinking about it. RobtheElder


almost 3 years ago, said...

As I look back on my husband's last few years, he is about 6 or 7 years into dementia. Some of the happenings around that time seemed out of person for him. Now I believe it was the beginning, and I did not recognize it nor did I know what to look for. However, I did mention to our Dr. some of the things he was doing and he noted it, but did not seem too concerned. Now he sees the advancement and the changes.


almost 3 years ago, said...

I've had all those symptoms since the age of 20, 42 years ago. So far, so good!