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What Are Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease, and by the time symptoms appear, it is thought that disease-related changes in the brain have been happening for 10 or more years.1 This is known as the pre-clinical phase, and though no signs or symptoms are showing, changes in the brain are slowly occurring. Once symptoms do start to become apparent, it’s important to seek assistance from your health care provider so that an accurate diagnosis can be made and treatments can be decided upon.

As with the course of Alzheimer’s disease, the initial symptoms can vary widely among individuals, although problems with memory are usually the first symptoms that appear.1 Other early symptoms can include word-finding difficulties, visual/spatial issues, and judgment impairments. These can often be mistaken for other problems – and can also be symptoms of other issues like adverse medication effects, nutritional deficiencies, or various medical issues. It’s important to get a thorough neurological and medical evaluation to rule out other potential diagnoses so that the proper treatment can be given.

Over the course of the disease, your symptoms will change. Alzheimer’s disease is often broken down into three stages: mild, or early-stage; moderate; and severe. Each stage has different symptoms that signal the progression of the disease. Knowing the symptoms can help you stay aware of your disease and enable you to ask your doctor about new treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms.

Early stage symptoms

In the initial stage of Alzheimer’s disease, you might still be fairly independent but experience symptoms like having trouble finding the right word for something, or not being able to remember someone’s name when meeting them. You might start to have difficulties with work tasks or forget information you just read. Other symptoms include misplacing valuable objects, and increasing difficulty with planning or organizing.2 These symptoms are significant enough that those close to you, like family or co-workers, notice that these signs are more serious than typical forgetfulness that comes with aging.

Moderate stage symptoms

This stage is usually the longest stage of Alzheimer’s disease and can last for years, although during this stage, the symptoms still progress.2 You might remain slightly independent in the beginning of this stage, but as it progresses, more and more help is needed.

In this stage, you will likely still remember important events and information about your life, but the Alzheimer’s symptoms become more pronounced and you have more difficulty with tasks and cognition. Symptoms are noticeable to others, not just those closest to you. These can include: mood changes, trouble choosing appropriate clothing for the season, difficulty swallowing or eating, confusion about what day it is or where you are, sleep difficulties or disturbances, incontinence, the inability to learn new information, trouble recognizing family/friends, personality or behavioral changes like hand wringing or agitation, trouble with language, and an increased risk of wandering.1,2

The variety and severity of symptoms changes over time during this stage, with increasing symptoms and severity as the stage progresses.

Severe stage symptoms

In this stage, an individual cannot communicate and is completely dependent on other people for their basic daily care. Symptoms include an inability to communicate, weight loss, loss of bladder and bowel control, significant vulnerability to infections, loss of ability to sit or walk, seizures, and increased sleeping.1,2

Each person may experience different symptoms and different degrees of symptom severity at different times, so it’s important to talk with your doctor and caregivers about symptoms and how you’d like them to be treated. While there is no cure, treatment does focus on alleviating or minimizing symptoms to make you comfortable and improve everyday life.

Written by: Jaime Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. National Institute on Aging. What Are the Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease? 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-signs-alzheimers-disease Accessed April 11, 2019.
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Stages of Alzheimer’s. 2019. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/stages Accessed April 11, 2019.