Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

Dr Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman

Because the disease begins very gradually, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s may go unnoticed for a while.

Mild forgetfulness, which is so common in the early stages of the disease, may simply be put down to ‘getting older’ (though there is no specific reason that memory should deteriorate with age).

However, as the disease progresses, the symptoms become more noticeable, especially the memory loss. It is usually the loss of memory that motivates sufferers or their relatives to seek medical attention.

Not every sufferer of Alzheimer’s will follow the course of the disease exactly. The disease, which usually develops gradually, progresses faster in some people than it does in others.

It is also important to be aware that even though the commonest symptoms of the disease are shared by the majority of sufferers, no two people will experience identical symptoms.

The symptoms which appear on the list below are not inevitable. But knowing a little about the possible progression of Alzheimer’s can help you plan for the future. Forewarned is forearmed.

1. The following symptoms usually occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Forgetfulness, especially of recent events. Sufferers may remember events that took place a year ago, but lose all recollection of what occurred an hour ago. In the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, it is only short-term memory loss which is affected; memory loss deteriorates as the disease progresses. It is not uncommon for sufferers to become highly defensive when questioned about their failing memory, this is because they usually feel embarrassed or frightened by it. Some sufferers even go to great lengths to hide their memory loss from friends and relatives.
2. Difficulty in making decisions.
3. An inability to do tasks which require some intellectual ability, such as simple mathematical calculations, managing the household finances, etc.
4. Repetitious questioning – the same question may be asked over and over again because the sufferer has lost all memory of having asked that question previously. Stories may also be repeated for the same reason.
5. Misplacing objects – the sugar may be put in the fridge for example, because the sufferer is not able to remember where it is normally stored.
6. Constantly losing things.
7. Difficulty in finding the right word when talking (Anomia).
8. Frequently losing train of thought during conversations.
9. Apathy.
10. Forgetting the names of objects and calling them by a different name, for example, a chair may be called a bench or a cupboard might be called a wardrobe.
11. Loss of concentration.
12. Forgetting familiar names.
13. Listlessness.
14. Inability to learn new information – this is due to loss of short-term memory which is essential when it comes to learning anything new.
15. Depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.
16. Getting lost in familiar places – the sufferer may forget their usual route back home from their local supermarket or from a friend’s house.
17. Disorientation in time – a sufferer may be confused as to what day, month or year it is.
18. Poor judgement – the Alzheimer sufferer may put on a thick woolly jumper even though it’s the middle of summer and the temperature is ninety degrees in the shade.
19. Increasing difficulty with speech. The sufferer may withdraw from intellectual conversations as a result.
20. Personality changes – a previously trusting person may suddenly become suspicious of everyone they encounter, even their loved ones. Other personality changes may include: hostility, jealousy, outbursts of anger and sometimes violence.

2. Symptoms usually occurring in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Carelessness – frequently leaving the cooker on or, if they smoke, leaving burning cigarettes lying around. This type of carelessness can be life-threatening both to the sufferer as well as to the people around them.
2. Mood swings – sobbing uncontrollably one minute and laughing hysterically the next for no apparent reason.
3. Simple everyday tasks becoming increasingly difficult.
4. Lack of personal hygiene.
5. Personality changes becoming more apparent.
6. Increasing problems with speech.
7. Wandering – roaming from room to room as if looking for something.
8. Repetition of simple but usually purposeful activities. For instance, repeatedly smoothing down a fold in the tablecloth.
9. Behaviour may become increasingly bizarre.
10. Severe deterioration of comprehension.
11. Loss of sexual inhibitions.
12. Strong denial that anything is wrong.
13. Extreme lack of motivation.
14. Severe sleep disturbances.

3. Symptoms usually occurring in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
1. A failure to recognize familiar faces. The patient may not be able to identify their spouse and may confuse him/her with another family member. It is also quite common for sufferers not even to recognize themselves when they look in the mirror and because of this, they may complain of a stranger being in the room.
2. The sufferer can no longer find his or her way around their own home.
3. Loss of the ability to read and write.
4. Personality changes becoming more severe and problematical.
5. The sufferer may experience hallucinations.
6. A complete failure to recognize ordinary, everyday objects.
7. Speech becomes unintelligible.
8. A total dependency on others for help with: toileting, bathing, eating, dressing, etc.
9. Bowel and bladder incontinence.
10. An inability to walk or even sit up.
11. Severe confusion and disorientation.
12. Paranoid delusions.
13. An inability to swallow.
Finally, a complete loss of memory and speech as well as muscle function. Death usually occurs in about five to ten years after diagnosis though in some cases, the sufferer can have the disease for as long as 20 years.

Sufferers do not usually die from the primary brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s, but invariably from a complication of the disease. This is a consequence of the increasing debility that the disease causes to the sufferer. Once sufferers become immobile, they are far more susceptible to infection.

Finally, it is important to point out that individuals who experience some or all of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s should not panic. Most of us experience lapses of memory from time to time during conversation. These lapses of memory are quite normal and are simply due to absent-mindedness.

However, if forgetfulness comes on suddenly or gets noticeably worse, it is time to seek help. Remember that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be caused by a wide variety of illnesses, some of which can be treated.

Copyright Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman 2016

Taken from How to conquer health problems between ages 50 and 120 by Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman (now available as an ebook on Amazon).