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Early Stage Symptom: Confusion

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may experience a variety of symptoms that seem like normal aging, at first. As you experience these things more and more, you or your close family members or co-workers might suspect there might be something else going on. As time goes by, however, these occurrences keep happening and become more and more pronounced. One of the more serious symptoms that usually occurs in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s disease is confusion about time or place. You might forget where your house is or where you are, or become confused about the passage of time and think it’s the past, or forget the season.1 This can be scary and upsetting. This is different from regular age-related confusion of what day of the week it is, but then remembering the correct day.

Tell your doctor if you experience this symptom, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. You want to make sure that there’s nothing else going on, like a stroke or medication interaction that could be causing these symptoms. They’ll be able to do a medical exam and any necessary testing to ensure there’s no other cause for the confusion.

When to see a doctor

If you get confused about where you are or what year it is, call your doctor to make an appointment as soon as you can. This is a significant symptom of Alzheimer’s and may indicate some progression of the disease. You might talk to your doctor about the need for more caregiving or talk with your caregiver or partner about what you need to keep you safe and in the present.

Treatments

There are various treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, but remember that the treatments don’t cure the disease, nor do they slow the progression of the disease. The medications help to minimize symptoms, but aren’t a cure for them, and only work for a certain period of time, until the disease progresses. The medication used for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease is called memantine (brand name Namenda).2 Namenda works on the brain chemical glutamate. If too much glutamate is made in the brain, it may lead to brain cell death; the medication helps to regulate the production of glutamate, potentially slowing down or stopping excess cell death. It can be used with the cholinesterase inhibitors, which are used in early and moderate Alzheimer’s disease, because the medications work on two different brain chemicals. These drugs can help control or minimize symptoms for a time, allowing you to function more independently and remember more things for a bit longer.

Non-drug treatments to help you remember things include visual cues to help remind you of the day, date, and year, like a large-print calendar, or signs that remind you of the season. Talk to your caregiver or partner about what would be helpful to you to aid in orientation to time and place. If you don’t need the cues on a given day, you can ignore them, but they’re there if you need them on a more challenging day.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. Alzheimer’s Association. Memory Loss and Confusion. 2019. https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/memory-loss-confusion Accessed April 18, 2019.
  2. National Institute on Aging. How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated? 2018. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-alzheimers-disease-treated Accessed April 18, 2019.