What are the first signs of Alzheimer's?

11 answers | Last updated: Dec 06, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

What are the first signs of Alzheimer's?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

Yes, memory lapses are often the first sign of Alzheimer's recognized by family members. But it's important to realize that many different factors can also cause memory impairment, including other dementias, depression, and drug interactions. (See a list here.) Other classic hallmarks of Alzheimer's include confusion over words, changes in personality, trouble with abstract thinking, and misplacing items. For an elaboration of these things and others, see "8 Signs to Watch for If You Suspect Alzheimer's."

Community Answers

Littlesister answered...

In my experience, the first signs are lapses in memory. Things like "I can't find my key" aren't as bothersome as "I can't remember how to write a check." or something else that was previously obvious to your loved one.

Beege answered...

What of false diagnosis? My Doc and wife (they do not know that I know of their separate conversations) have decided with certainty that I have dementia from Alzheimers. They may be right, but they might be wrong. I am to be truthful forgetful, but I have always been forgetful. I am the archetypal absent minded professor. But I recall more than the both of them combined. I have no trouble thinking through some heavy duty stuff. I am 77 and expected to have some troubles at this age but I think they have gone too far, to the point of causing a rift between the two of them and myself.

Paz2u answered...

I first noticed the angry outbursts but that may be due to my mother being so good at hiding her other symptoms from us. Earlier on, those with a big ego get very sophisocated in hiding and covering the symptoms. I initially thought my mother hated me because I was her target and no one else. She took all her frustrations and upsets out on me and said some very cruel things to me. My brother and sister did not see it for three years no matter what I said. Oh but they see it now!!!!!!!!! She still has so much pride she refuses meds saying nothing is wrong with her memory that she could out test us anyday.

Tonytiger answered...

Flowernthenow told my story escept it is my husband and the grown children weren't seeing it--for first year plus.

Frena answered...

considering how many other conditions and issues look like what people think of as Alzheimer's, i'm sorry that the expert did not concentrate far more clearly on that fact. no-one can diagnose alzheimer's by looking at behaviors. and actually, recent studies have shown that even people who went through the alzheimer's workup and were diagnosed turned out after autopsy to have been 50 percent wrongly diagnosed. neverthless, it is still essential to have that full work-up since it can at least find other issues to explain symptoms. one thing taht absolutely needs to be said is that people with dementia do NOT plan and scheme to do devious things. that's because, they have dementia! and that illness rules out the possibility of rational step by step planning and carrying out. it's very sad when family members attribute all that kind of stuff to their person with dementia. it usually means a) the family really don't understand how dementia works and b) on the other hand have considerable anger to their person. blame of someone with dementia is usually a sign of caregiver stress and that could be lightened a lot if people would go to support groups and get other perspective on the issues. we can't change someone else's dementia, if they have it, but we can change ourselves as caregivers. so i hope people take very seriously te need to learn more at support groups, from others who really understand what it is to walk this road.

Workerpriest answered...

I am still in stages of grieving after the death of my Mom at age 86 in Feb.7, 2007. Thank our God that I go to grief support group because there I am reminded that what I am experiencing with losing things and memory problems is part of the grieving process.It is entirely normal, even for young people.

But if it never goes away, well I will have to consider something else

The grief which isn't exactly mourning now but is asking for a whole re-orientation of life brings periods of exhaustion when I feel as if I have hit the wall and must go to bed or I will collapse.

All of these symptoms are intensified, I now believe, if one was caregiver to the person for a long time. I was, for at least 6 years of very gradual decline with a woman who became temperamentally very difficult. She only had mild dementia according to the doc but she was never tested and she sure had impossible personalty changes. I think a caregiver can be left with a great deal of post traumatic stress if they have been going through the last years and days with the person who has been difficult and challenging in terms of the person's lack of co-operation or sensitivity to others of any kind.

This is intensified further by other family members who are in denial about it all and suddenly she has 2 days to live whereas I had been telling them for several years what had been going on. Some wanted to be involved but only to interfere, which I did not allow,since they never came forward with real help that asked something of them.

One can come out of these experiences alive but with all sorts of physical and mental disruptions including disturbed sleep patterns after all that time of being the only caregiver. The capacity to sleep has to be re-established , especially at night.

Then there may also be to severe financial difficulties in the wake of our loved one's death. The costs during those final years are all hidden costs which you just pay at the time because you have to but afterwards, in the aftermath one can feel as if the brain has become scrambled particularly in relation to memory.

I have sold my my house now and moving towards closing date which has all kinds of inconveniences attached that will cost me because of the buyers schedule for payment and moving,etc and it very much complicates my move.

I feel like my brain is entirely scrambled sometimes and I am glad I live alone right now because I have to do so much back tracking, sorting and re-arranging all while looking for a place to live.I am glad I do not have younger people watching me and making judgments about my conditions.

All of this is a worthwhile experience, but I encourage myself and others to go with the flow of things and know that everything is not Alzheimer's and that there is recovery unless one has dementia, and that these temporary periods that feel like insanity are temporary.

It is very useful to be receiving support on this list and I am looking at issues more in terms of caregiver stress than from the point of view of actual caregiving of the loved one, where advice here is superb.

Thanks to all for your expression of thoughts and realities for the whole year I have been part of this discussion and receiver of the fine support and knowledge brought to us and that we have given to each other,


Yvonne crump answered...

I was dissappointed in the reply from the specialist, who diagnosed Alzheimers, to my question "how can you diagnose alzheimers'? His reply, "just from what you tell us". We left in complete denial. He was right as far as I can tell although a nagging thought that it may have been the result of 4 TIA attacks in quick succession from Atriel Fibrolation. As pointed out to me, the end result is the same so why try to unravel the cause. That was 9 years ago with no deterioration in the last 3 years, completely dependant on care for EVERYTHING, unable to converse feed himself or walk. I won't know life without caring for my husband so the eventual loss will be huge.

Paz2u answered...

Yvonne, I sympatize with your plight from your husbands physician. Our family was treated terrible when we first noticed what was happening to our mother. We got no help at all and he eventually dropped her as a patient when she had gone to this facility all her life and even took us there as children (however, new Dr.) We wanted her checked completey for other causes that might be able to be corrected or slowed she refused but my argument the entire time is she is not in her right mind to choose. I believe adults should have their rights don't get me wrong, I want to keep mine as long as possible but when you clearly don't know what you are saying and doing then Dr.'s should help because they can easily be misdiagnosised and it seems when you age "some" don't care nor knowledgable enough in treating the elderly and the line of thinking who cares because the end result is the same is obsurd!!!! Of course we all are going to die it starts working on us at birth when we take our first breath but I think some elderly die before their time because of such attitudes. None of us wants our loved ones suffering for years without a quality of life because they don't want that either but I believe in trying and seeking a cause, cure, relief until there is no hope left. Sadly there is no way to tell if it is Alzheimer's until an autopsy but so many things can mimic dementia in the elderly that they deserve every test and treatment available. It leaves a family in a terrible state of mind. One has to find an answer from deep within, "when do you stop trying to help?" because it can get discouraging when you have to fight with both the system and your loved one too. With the population aging something better happen or there will be a huge crisis. Families who want to be involved with their parents should be supported in everyway possible not fought against. Truthfully there is not much in place for the victim's nor the families who also become victims.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Many times' a person with the beginning of Alzheimers' forget something that they would never forget. Such as their wallet/purse. Even to the point of not knowing how to make a cup of coffee/tea. Its' best to keep an eye on the things that you yourself know they would not forget. When this happens be sure to make a Drs' app't for them. Quite often your Family Physician will get you in contact with a Geriologist (Elderly Care). They will do a quiz on this person to see just how far their Alzheimers' has gotten to. If your Family Physician does not offer this to you dont' hesitate to ask. A Geriologist is very qualified in all areas' of Dementia, Alzheimers' etc. This would be your true way of knowing for sure. As well you will most likely see a change in speech pattern, words' just wont' come to them. They get irritable when evening comes. This is called "Sundowning" and it changes their perception in thinking. My prayers' are with you and I do hope you receive the help you need.

Bela answered...

I my name is Elba,I feel as am I got the beinging of this but my Dr.s say's it to early.but my dad die remembering only one of his kid.sad to say that me and I had not seen him in like 15 year..I made plans to go see this summer But he die last Nov.