Early-Stage Symptoms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Alzheimer’s disease has 3 stages: early, middle, and late. Early-stage symptoms are the mildest. People with early-stage Alzheimer’s may still function independently. For example, they may still drive, work, and socialize as usual.1

Even though early-stage symptoms are mild, they may still be noticeable to the person with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. In fact, Alzheimer’s is often diagnosed at this stage. Someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s may be able to advocate for themselves and their care. They can help to make financial, legal, and care-related plans while they have the ability to make decisions.1-3

Cognitive and mental symptoms

Many of the early-stage thinking (cognitive) and mental symptoms of Alzheimer's are milder versions of later-stage symptoms. These are things like memory loss and mood changes. Though early symptoms may be less disruptive to daily life, they can still be noticeable and upsetting for people with Alzheimer’s.1-4

A person may begin to have difficulty with their normal, daily tasks in social settings or work. For example, they may not be able to do a routine step for a task at their job that they do regularly.1-4

Someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s may also lose or misplace valuable objects. They may have difficulty completing hygiene tasks by themselves, like bathing. They may also start to wander or get lost for short periods of time. Each of these behaviors may start off smaller and then become more noticeable and disruptive as time goes on.2-4

People with early-stage Alzheimer’s may have issues coming up with a word or a name. They may also have trouble remembering names of new people or keeping track of material that they just read. Memory loss in Alzheimer’s primarily affects creation of new memories. So the person with Alzheimer's may have difficulty with unfamiliar:1-4

  • Objects
  • People
  • Places

Early-stage Alzheimer’s also affects decision-making. People in this stage can start to show poor judgment, like making risky financial decisions. They can also lose spontaneity or motivation. Or they might have an increase in anxiety or aggression. These changes can feel scary, particularly when they first start happening. Consulting a doctor quickly can provide clarity and comfort.1-4

Assistance and care during early-stage Alzheimer’s

People with early-stage Alzheimer’s can still usually live and work independently. Once memory lapses or confusion start to become more common, they may want occasional or daily assistance.1

Alzheimer’s is most often diagnosed in its early stage. After diagnosis, people with Alzheimer’s can still live well. They may choose to focus on mental and physical health. Or they might spend energy on the other parts of their lives that are most meaningful. This stage is the best time to make legal, financial, and end-of-life plans. That is because the person with Alzheimer’s can still participate in decision-making.1-3

If you begin to notice early-stage Alzheimer’s symptoms in yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor. They can help with diagnosis. They can also refer you to other professionals who can help you prepare for and navigate Alzheimer’s.

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