Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms

Written by Wendy Leonard, MPH | Published on August 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 8, 2014

Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) often occurs in three stages: mildmoderate, and severe. The symptoms tend to be cumulative and worsen over time.

Mild

In addition to memory loss, early clinical symptoms will likely include:

  • confusion about the location of familiar places
  • taking longer to accomplish normal daily tasks
  • trouble handling money and paying bills
  • poor judgment leading to bad decisions
  • loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • mood and personality changes and increased anxiety

Moderate

As the disease spreads to more regions of the brain, additional clinical symptoms may include:

  • increasing memory loss and confusion
  • shortened attention span
  • problems recognizing friends and family members
  • difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, or working with numbers
  • difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically
  • inability to learn new tasks or to cope with new or unexpected situations
  • inappropriate outbursts of anger
  • perceptual-motor problems, such as trouble getting out of a chair or setting the table
  • repetitive statements or movement, and occasional muscle twitches
  • hallucinations, delusions, suspiciousness or paranoia, and irritability
  • loss of impulse control, such as undressing at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language
  • exacerbation of behavioral symptoms, such as restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, and wandering — especially in the late afternoon or evening — called, “sundowning”

Severe AD

At this point, plaques and tangles, the hallmarks of AD, show in the brain when viewed by the imaging technology MRI. This is the final stage of AD. These symptoms include: 

  • inability to recognize family and loved ones
  • sense of self seems to vanish
  • unable to communicate in any way
  • lack of bladder and bowel control
  • weight loss
  • seizures
  • skin infections
  • groaning, moaning, or grunting
  • increased sleeping
  • total dependence on others for their care
  • difficulty swallowing

Conditions With Similar Symptoms

There are other causes of dementia that have similar symptoms to AD. The following list of neurodegenerative diseases contains the most common ones.

  • Parkinson’s disease with dementia leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination.
  • Vascular dementia occurs from impaired blood flow to the brain and leads to problems with reasoning, planning, judgment, and memory.
  • Frontotemporal lobar degeneration affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are associated with personality, behavior and language.
  • Frontotemporal dementia affects the temporal and frontal lobes that influence decision-making, behavioral control, emotion, and language.
  • Pick’s disease is a rare and permanent form of dementia similar to AD except it often affects only certain brain areas.
  • Supranuclear palsy is a rare brain disorder that causes serious and progressive problems with control of gait and balance, complex eye movement, and thinking problems.
  • Corticobasal degeneration occurs when areas of your brain  shrink and nerve cells die over time. The result is growing difficulty moving on one or both sides of your body.

Other Possible Causes of Dementia

Other possible causes of dementia include:

  • medication side effects
  • depression
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • chronic alcoholism
  • certain tumors or infections of the brain
  • blood clots in or on the brain
  • metabolic imbalances, including thyroid, kidney, and liver disorders

Outlook

Talk to a doctor if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms. Because symptoms worsen over time, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of Alzheimer’s. Your doctor will help you assess if symptoms are mild, moderate, or severe.

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