The vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease will experience changes like depression and anxiety. But a new study published in the journal Neurology shows that behavioral changes like these start well before they begin to have memory loss.
The researchers looked at 2,416 people over age 50 without cognitive issues. After following them for seven years, researchers found that 1,218 people developed dementia.
Those with dementia had twice the risk of developing depression earlier - far before their dementia symptoms started - than people without the disease. They were also more than 12 times more likely to develop delusions. The symptoms appeared in consistent phases: first, irritability, depression, and nighttime behavior changes; followed by anxiety, appetite changes, agitation and apathy. The final phase was elation, motor disturbances, hallucinations, delusions and disinhibition.
Though the researchers were able to make the connection, they still cannot confirm for certain whether the changes in the brain that cause one shift in behavior are the same changes that cause memory loss. But understanding when symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease appear could one day lead to earlier interventions.
Are you worried about an older loved one’s memory or behavior? Has your mom been getting lost while running errands? Has your dad started to ask the same questions over and over? Signs of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease aren’t always clear-cut - they can be hard to distinguish from normal, age-related memory changes.
To help guide you, here are the Alzheimer’s warning signs to watch for, along with advice about seeing a doctor and getting a diagnosis.
Alzheimer Disease Warning Signs
Many people confuse Alzheimer’s disease with dementia. What’s the difference? Alzheimer’s is a disease; dementia is a group of symptoms that include loss of memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. However, dementia isn’t always caused by Alzheimer’s disease; it can result from other conditions, as well.
Memory loss. Although older memories might seem unaffected, people with dementia might forget recent experiences or important dates or events. Anyone can forget some details from a recent event or conversation or recall them later. People with dementia might forget the entire thing.
“We all forget the exact details of a conversation or what someone told us to do, but a person with AD will forget what just happened, what someone just said, or what he or she just said and therefore repeat things over and over again,” says Lisa P. Gwyther, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide .
Memory loss isn’t consistent, and people with AD may forget the dog’s name one day and remember it the next. “Nothing is certain or predictable with most dementias except they do progress,” says Gwyther.
Repetition. People with dementia may repeat stories, sometimes word for word. They may keep asking the same questions, no matter how many times they’re answered.
Difficulty with familiar tasks
A person suffering from dementia often takes longer to complete, and may have trouble finishing, everyday tasks that he or she has done hundreds of times before.
For instance, a former whiz in the kitchen may have a problem making his or her signature dish or even remembering how to boil water.
Common activities like remembering how to get to a familiar location, play a favorite game, or manage a budget may also prove difficult.
Language problems. We all struggle to remember a word occasionally. People with dementia can have profound problems remembering even basic words. Their way of speaking may become contorted and hard to follow.
AD sufferers have difficulty with abstract thinking as the disease progresses, making numbers and money particularly troublesome.
While missing an occasional monthly payment isn’t something to worry about (at least in terms of the brain’s health), if your loved one suddenly has difficulty handling money, paying bills, managing a budget, or even understanding what numbers represent, it could be a sign of dementia.
Personality changes. People with dementia may have sudden mood swings. They might become emotional - upset or angry - for no particular reason. They might become withdrawn or stop doing things they usually enjoy. They could become uncharacteristically suspicious of family members - or trusting of telemarketers.
Agitation and mood swings
It’s common for someone suffering from AD to seem anxious or agitated.
They may constantly move around and pace, get upset in certain places, or become fixated on specific details. Agitation usually results from fear, confusion, fatigue, and feeling overwhelmed from trying to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense, explains Gwyther.
Certain circumstances can also make the individual more anxious, such as relocating to a nursing home. In addition to agitation, rapid and seemingly unprovoked mood swings are another sign of dementia- going from calm to tearful to angry for no apparent reason.
Disorientation and confusion. People with dementia may get lost in places they know very well, like their own neighborhoods. They may have trouble completing basic and familiar tasks, like cooking dinner or shaving.
Lack of hygiene. Sometimes this is the most obvious sign of Alzheimer’s disease. People who have dressed smartly every day of their lives might start wearing stained clothing or stop bathing.
A person with AD will begin to make decisions that seem silly, irresponsible, or even inappropriate and are a marked departure from past behavior, such as dressing improperly for the weather or no longer being able to assess for themselves what is safe.
“The earliest changes in judgment usually involve money. So people who were normally very cautious with their finances will start spending in unusual ways, like giving money to unworthy strangers like telemarketers, or withholding money they should pay, because they incorrectly believe their utility company is suddenly untrustworthy,” says Gwyther.
Odd behavior. We all misplace our keys from time to time. People with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are prone to placing objects in odd and wholly inappropriate places. They might put a toothbrush in the fridge or milk in the cabinet under the sink.
If your loved one is exhibiting any of these Alzheimer’s warning signs, don’t panic. Having these symptoms doesn’t mean that your loved one necessarily has Alzheimer’s disease. But you need to schedule an appointment with the doctor for an evaluation.
- Framework to establish standards for psychosocial interventions used to treat mental health and subs