Recognising the signs and symptoms

On a wooden desk is a stethoscope and a black sign with “Signs and Symptoms” on it.

Difference between Early Alzheimer’s Disease and Forgetfulness

We all forget things from time to time and this forgetfulness tends to increase with age. It can be difficult to judge whether this forgetfulness is a part of normal ageing. Typically it is the ‘depth’ of the memory loss that differs in ‘normal forgetfulness’ versus that due to Alzheimer’s disease. A person with ‘normal forgetfulness’ can usually still remember other facts associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, they may briefly forget their neighbour’s name but the person they are talking to is their neighbour. A person with Alzheimer’s disease will often forget not only their neighbour’s name, but also the context in which they know them.

Stages of Memory Loss

Alzheimer’s disease is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways. There are, however, stages that many people will progress through and these reflect the movement of the disease through the brain. The symptoms that someone is experiencing will therefore often change, depending on the stage of their disease.

MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an early stage of memory loss or other cognitive ability loss (such as language or visual/spatial perception) in individuals who maintain the ability to independently perform most activities of daily living.” This is unlike other stages of Alzheimer’s disease where day to day activities are impacted. Symptoms of Mild Cognitive impairment may include:
 
  • Taking longer to think of words or recalling names
  • Forgetting important event e.g. appointments
  • Decision making becoming more overwhelming
  • Family and friends may start noticing 
MILD AZLHEIMER’S
In the very early stages, day-to-day memory problems dominate but these can be subtle so it can be hard to tell if they are due to the normal ageing process.
 
Early warning signs to look out for include:
 
  • Losing or misplacing things
  • Becoming confused in familiar places
  • Taking longer to carry out everyday tasks
  • Changes in mood
MODERATE ALZHEIMER’S
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the problems with memory become more pronounced and other cognitive processes also start to become affected. People may:
 
  • Tell the same stories or ask the same question repeatedly
  • Have difficulty recognising family members or friends
  • Have word-finding difficulties or non-fluent speech
  • Show a lack of concern over their appearance
  • Experience changes in mood and personality
SEVERE ALZHEIMER’S
In this stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the problems with memory become more pronounced and other cognitive processes also start to become affected. People may:
 
  • Tell the same stories or ask the same question repeatedly
  • Have difficulty recognising family members or friends
  • Have word-finding difficulties or non-fluent speech
  • Show a lack of concern over their appearance
  • Experience changes in mood and personality

If you recognise signs of memory loss in a loved one that keeps on getting worse, to the point you are concerned, it is strongly recommended that you make an appointment to see a doctor for an assessment. The earlier that Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed, the more can be done to manage it.

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