Understanding Alzheimer's Disease -- Symptoms
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease often come on gradually. They then typically progress over several years to the point of causing major impairment.
Alzheimer's can be divided into mild, moderate, or severe stages. Each stage has a separate set of symptoms. But symptoms can vary from person to person. And the length of each stage can also vary.
The first stage is considered early or mild Alzheimer's. On average, it lasts from two to four years. The earlier the symptoms are recognized, the earlier a doctor can tell if someone has Alzheimer's.
The symptoms of this stage include:
- Change in the level of energy and spontaneity
- Withdrawal from work and social activities and spending more time just sitting, watching TV, or sleeping
- Loss of recent memories; this includes forgetting conversations and recent events
- Increasing problems with language, both with expression and understanding
- Mild problems with coordination; this might be seen in having trouble with writing or in using familiar objects.
- Trouble completing familiar tasks, such as following a recipe or balancing a check book
- Mood swings that involve episodes of depression or apathy
- Possible trouble with driving
Having some or all of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has Alzheimer's. Other conditions can cause symptoms that mimic Alzheimer's disease. These conditions include:
- Metabolic problems such as hypothyroidism
- Drug abuse
- Medication interactions
- Parkinson's disease
The moderate stage of Alzheimer's typically lasts from two to 10 years. In this stage, memory loss becomes worse and disrupts daily life.
The person with Alzheimer's may lose a sense of his or her own personal history. Or he or she may not recognize or remember family members and friends. The person may also forget where he or she leaves things and be unable to retrace his or her steps.
Other symptoms of moderate Alzheimer's may include:
- Rambling speech
- Trouble coming up with correct words or phrases for familiar concepts and using inappropriate words when trying to communicate
- Trouble with planning or solving problems
- Becoming confused about time or place; a person with Alzheimer's may become lost in places he or she has often been to and should be familiar with. In addition, the person may not know how or why he or she got to that place.
- Sleep disturbances
- Having delusions
People with moderate Alzheimer's may also experience these symptoms:
- Not dressing for the weather
- Poor judgment and inappropriate behavior and actions
- More problems with mobility and coordination
- Growing awareness of a loss of control, which can lead to increasing episodes of depression
The third stage, known as severe Alzheimer's, is also known as late Alzheimer's. It typically lasts one to three years.
It may include these symptoms:
- Major confusion about past and present
- Inability to communicate, remember, or process information, along with a loss of language capabilities
- Problems with swallowing, incontinence, and bowel control
- Weight loss, seizures, skin infections, and other illnesses
- Extreme mood swings
- Hallucinations and delirium
How Do the Symptoms of Alzheimer's Differ From Normal Aging?
It's common for people to develop minor memory glitches as they age. The fact that someone temporarily forgets a name or why they walked into the kitchen doesn't mean they have Alzheimer's. With aging, those types of problems are usually temporary or insignificant. But with Alzheimer's, the forgotten name or lost term may never come back.
It's rare, though, for Alzheimer's to cause sudden deterioration.
What Are the Benefits of Recognizing Alzheimer's Disease Early?
Noticing symptoms early and getting diagnosed early can go a long way toward helping maintain and prolong a person's quality of life.
Here are some of the benefits of an early diagnosis:
Finding the right care. Early diagnosis gives people more time to come to terms with the disease and to find the care and help they need. This makes it easier to cope with the effects of Alzheimer's and develop the means to live life to its fullest.
Learn about clinical trials. People with Alzheimer's will have more opportunity to learn about clinical trials that may slow the progression of the disease. That will give them more opportunity to enjoy life and time with loved ones.
Coordinate with doctors. An early diagnosis makes it easier to coordinate with all health care providers to make sure they are aware of what effect Alzheimer's has and will have on a person's overall health care needs.