The early signs of Alzheimer’s are often very subtle, which makes them difficult to spot. They may even be mistaken for regular aging, especially because many common effects of getting older (like slight forgetfulness) are similar to Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Family, friends, and close caregivers are most likely to notice the early signs of Alzheimer’s. Because this type of dementia affects each person differently, in many cases, the disease isn’t identified for years.
How can you recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s, and what are the key differences between those and normal aging? We’ve broken down what you need to know below.
Subtle short-term memory loss
Short-term memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The initial effects are gradual and almost imperceptible, such as losing keys, forgetting why you entered a room, or losing track of your daily schedule. According to the experts at Healthline, the exact type of memory loss (short- or long-term) is crucial: “an older person [with dementia] may be able to remember events that took place years ago, but not what they had for breakfast.”
Regular Aging: According to the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia vs. normal aging is all about whether or not your family member can remember the information they forgot at a later time. A healthy senior might sometimes forget names or other small details but remember them later.
Problems With Speaking or Writing
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, your loved one might have trouble following or joining a conversation. For example, they may stop in the middle of a conversation, lose their train of thought, or repeat themself. Other symptoms to look out for include lessening vocabulary (when speaking or writing) or struggling to assign a name to an everyday object.
Regular Aging: Occasional trouble with word-finding (in speaking or writing) can happen as you age. However, if your loved one is consistently having a hard time finding the right words, that’s not typical. For example, a verbose person with an extensive vocabulary won’t lose that quality as they age. They might have trouble on occasion, but regular issues with speech or writing is a warning sign to watch for.
Withdrawal from Socializing
“A person with [early] dementia may become uninterested in socializing with other people, whether in their home life or at work,” warns Medical News Today. This means that your family member may become withdrawn, refusing to speak to others and not paying attention when others talk to them. Some people may withdraw from the hobbies they previously enjoyed.
Regular Aging: The Alzheimer’s Association cites “sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations” as a standard sign of aging, so the key here is frequency. If your friend or family member declines an invitation every so often, it may be nothing to worry about, but if they stop attending altogether, it could be a concern. An older adult may be tired and do less, but they won’t be apathetic about the activities they once enjoyed.
Loss of Life Skills
Next time you visit your loved one, pay close attention to the way they keep their homes and themselves. A person with developing Alzheimer’s might stop regularly cleaning, or not notice things like expired food or dirty dishes. Also, pay close attention to personal hygiene and maintenance. Those with Alzheimer’s might stop bathing regularly or wear dirty clothes. Often, this is because deciding what to wear and in what order to put those clothes on becomes more difficult.
Regular Aging: A parent needing help with the settings on the microwave or the remote is a standard sign of aging according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Additionally, an older person may have trouble keeping up with all their daily chores or complete tasks slower than before. However, they won’t suddenly turn into a messy person after a lifetime of being tidy (unless there’s some sort of extenuating factor).
“Changes in a person’s basic disposition or temperament aren’t normal and may be signs of dementia,” according to the experts at Harvard Medical School. While it’s completely ordinary for people to slow down as they get older (think not wanting to go to parties if they cannot see or hear well, or giving up tennis due to a painful shoulder), be mindful of changes in mood and personality.
A person who is usually outgoing and cheerful may become taciturn, distrustful, or sad. Harvard Medical School’s experts explain that they often see depression alongside Alzheimer’s, which can result in symptoms such as:
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Change in appetite
- Sleeping too much
- Lack of energy
Regular Aging: “Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted” is a normal sign of aging, say the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association. However, that can be attributed to common (and occasional) crankiness. A healthy senior won’t have a different personality or always be cranky. Nor will they have severe symptoms of depression.
Interpreting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s vs. Normal Aging
When it comes to identifying dementia, it’s important to pay attention to details regarding behavior and habits. Spend time with your loved ones, ask them questions when you notice any issues or new actions. Take note of anything that seems off. When in doubt, reach out to your loved one’s primary care physician.
Our tribe at Vineyard Johns Creek includes Alzheimer’s experts, please feel free to give us a call and discuss the early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia.