Identifying Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer's

Last updated: September 2022

Alzheimer's disease can start with mild symptoms. Many people may not know they have Alzheimer's because early symptoms are often missed. Symptoms are often not recognized, or they are mistaken for old age. Spotting early signs is important to help get an early diagnosis.1-3

What are the early signs of Alzheimer's?

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia. The greatest risk factor is age – most people with Alzheimer's are 65 and older. There are several early signs of Alzheimer's. These include:4

Memory loss that disrupts daily life

This can include forgetting newly learned information, repeating yourself, or relying on prompts to help you remember.2,5,6

Challenges in planning or solving problems

This can include difficulty in staying on track with plans, such as following a familiar recipe or paying bills.2,5,6

Difficulty completing familiar tasks

This can include cooking, shopping, driving, or remembering the rules of a familiar game.2,5,6

Confusion with time or place

You might lose track of dates, seasons, and the passing of time. You may forget where you are or how you got there.2,5,6

Trouble understanding images and spatial relationships

Vision problems may lead to problems with balance or judging distance. You might trip over things, spill, or drop things more often. You may have trouble reading.2,5,6

New problems with words in speaking or writing

This can include trouble following or joining conversations. It might mean struggling to remember a word you should know.2,5,6

Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps

You may put things in unusual places. For example, your keys in the dryer. You may find it difficult to retrace your steps.2,5,6

Decreased or poor judgment

You may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. You may pay less attention to grooming and keeping clean.2,5,6

Withdrawal from work or social activities

You may withdraw from hobbies or social activities. It may become difficult to follow your favorite games.2,5,6

Changes in mood and personality

You may experience a change in mood and personality. You could become confused, suspicious, fearful, or anxious. You may get easily upset.2,5,6

Cognitive assessments to detect early symptoms

Cognitive assessments are tests that can help spot early dementia symptoms. They measure things like memory, language, and reasoning. There are some very simple tests that can take only a few minutes. There are also more thorough tests that can take a couple of hours.7

There is no single test to diagnose Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive assessments are just one early dementia intervention. They can help a doctor decide if they need to investigate symptoms further.5,8

When should you have a cognitive assessment?

If you have any early signs of dementia, you should contact your doctor. Regular cognitive assessments are recommended. They are also included in Medicare Annual Wellness Visits. Spotting dementia symptoms early can lead to an earlier diagnosis. This means you will:7-9

  1. Begin treatment sooner to manage symptoms
  2. Have more time to plan for the future
  3. Have earlier access to care and support services

Early diagnosis can lessen the anxiety that comes with a lack of diagnosis. You may also have access to more clinical trials. Other things can cause dementia-like symptoms, so it's important to get correctly diagnosed.5,8

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