What Are the Early Stage Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019 | Last updated: December 2021

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disease. This means it gets worse over time as the brain gets more and more affected, causing worsening symptoms. The progression of the disease is typically broken down into three main stages: early-stage (mild), middle-stage (moderate), and late-stage (severe) Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing the symptoms of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease can help with differentiating them from those of normal aging, and potentially allow a person with Alzheimer’s to be diagnosed sooner. Early diagnosis means earlier treatment, which is important when it comes to symptom management.

The brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s start long before any symptoms appear. Oftentimes, people aren’t aware of these changes because they don’t affect cognition or behavior yet. This is called the preclinical phase and can last for a few years.1 In this discussion, the term “early stages” will encompass not only early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, but the beginning of middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease. There is often overlap between the two, because the middle stage of Alzheimer’s is the longest one, and can last many, many years – so the beginning of middle-stage Alzheimer’s looks very different than the tail end of middle-stage Alzheimer’s.

Early-stage symptoms

In mild or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease, to most people a person with Alzheimer’s might seem normal, just a little more forgetful. Close co-workers or family members and friends may notice that something’s not right. In this stage, a person with Alzheimer’s might still be fairly independent and drive, work, and do typical daily activities. As the symptoms become more pronounced, this is when most people seek out advice from their doctor, and as a result, most diagnoses are often made in this stage.2 Symptoms can include1,2:

  • Word-finding difficulties
  • Trouble remembering names of people met recently
  • More difficulty or taking longer to do everyday tasks
  • Repeating questions
  • Impaired judgment
  • Trouble managing finances
  • Getting lost
  • Increased anxiety or aggression
  • Losing things
  • Memory problems
  • Mood or personality changes

Each person is different, and not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. Some people may not experience some symptoms until later on, while others will notice them sooner.

Early middle-stage symptoms

This stage usually requires more supervision, and a person with Alzheimer’s isn’t generally able to be independent; they need more continual care. Symptoms are noticeable and interfere with every day functioning. Symptoms in this stage usually include1,2:

  • Worsening of memory loss and/or confusion
  • Difficulty in coping with new situations or changes in routine
  • Trouble organizing thoughts
  • Unable to learn new things
  • Forgetting personal history
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Increased judgment impairment
  • Social withdrawal
  • Mood/ personality changes

In the beginning of the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, these symptoms will start off as mild, but as this stage progresses, they will become more pronounced and severe, along with other significant symptoms.

If you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed or are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, talk with a doctor about the symptoms being experienced, as well as the potential symptoms that arise during this time. Knowing possible symptoms and telling a doctor what is going on can help the doctor choose appropriate treatments that alleviate or minimize symptoms and disruptions to daily routines. Knowing potential symptoms can help prepare for discussions about potential preferred treatment options, should the need for them ever arise.

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