What are some early signs of Alzheimer's?

Dr. Zaldy S. Tan, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

A person may experience early signs of Alzheimer’s disease for many years, even decades, before receiving an official diagnosis. Often, older adults and their loved ones may overlook or deny the signs of dementia and assume they are simply a normal part of aging. Adults who live alone may find it easier to hide the signs from their friends and relatives. Married couples, though, may also “cover” for each other because of the fear of being separated.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are subtle, including:

  • Misplacing items
  • Getting lost while driving
  • Missing payments
  • Forgetting names
  • Repeating questions and stories

It is important to compare the current situation to previous performance. For example, if a person always had a poor sense of direction, it may be entirely normal for him or her to get lost easily and rely heavily on GPS devices. For someone that used to navigate new areas easily, however, getting lost and relying on GPS devices may be a sign of Alzheimer’s.

Here are some common warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. If you or someone you love is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, talk to a doctor. The medications used to manage Alzheimer's disease work best in the early stages of the disease, making an early diagnosis significant:

  • Trouble remembering things - At first, only short-term memory may be affected. The individual may forget an appointment or the name of a new acquaintance. She may also forget where she left things, or she may leave things in odd places (for example, putting her shoes in the microwave). Eventually, long-term memory also is impaired, and the individual may not recognize family members.
  • Mood or personality changes - Someone who was social and outgoing may become withdrawn. The person may also become stubborn, distrustful, angry, or sad. Depression also often accompanies Alzheimer's disease, bringing such symptoms as loss of interest in a favorite hobby or activity, a change in appetite, insomnia or sleeping too much, lack of energy, and hopelessness.
  • Trouble completing ordinary tasks - Simple tasks that once caused no difficulty may become much more challenging. For example, a person may forget how to use the oven, lock the door, or get dressed.
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts - It's common for people with Alzheimer's disease to have trouble with language. The individual may try describing an object rather than using its name -- for example, referring to the telephone as "the ringer" or "that thing I call people with." Reading or writing may also be impaired.
  • Impaired judgment - The individual might have trouble making decisions, solving problems, or planning. For example, he may no longer be able to balance a checkbook or pay bills.
  • Disorientation - We all know what it's like to be driving and momentarily forget where we're going. But those with Alzheimer's disease may get lost in their own neighborhood. They may also lose track of dates and the time.
  • Unusual behavior - The individual may wander, become agitated, hide things, wear too few or too many clothes, become overly suspicious, engage in unsafe behaviors, or use foul language.
Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Progressive mental deterioration, loss of memory and cognitive functions, and an inabilityto carry out activities of daily life are the characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (AD). 

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Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

One of the first parts of the brain that's affected by Alzheimer's disease is the area that's responsible for your sense of smell. If you cannot identify all the items on the list below by their smell, you should speak to your doctor.

Have a friend or partner test you with the items below:Rose

  • Cherry
  • Smoke
  • Peppermint
  • Leather
  • Lilac
  • Pineapple
  • Soap
  • Strawberry
  • Natural Gas
  • Lemon
  • Clove

The first manifestation of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is usually memory loss. Later, the disease progresses to other areas of the brain involved in learning, processing, reasoning, and other functions.

The disease generally progresses through three stages—mild, moderate, and severe. Each stage is associated with specific symptoms of dementia or symptom severity.

Sarine Salama
Sarine Salama on behalf of MDLIVE
Psychology Specialist

Ten Warning signs of Alzheimer's Disease include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts your daily life
  • Challenges inplanning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps
  • Decreased or poor judgement
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood or personality

For more detailed information, you can visit the Alzheimer's Association website at

Early signs of Alzheimer's—one of many diseases that can cause dementia—are different from signs of the normal aging process like benign forgetfulness (forgetting where you put your keys, for example) or decreased motor skills (walking more slowly or having difficulty tying your shoes).

According to the Alzheimer's Association, the following 10 symptoms are warning signs of Alzheimer's disease:

  • memory loss
  • difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • problems with language
  • disorientation about time and place
  • poor or decreased judgment
  • challenges with planning and problem-solving
  • misplacing things
  • dramatic and sometimes abrupt changes in personality or mood
  • withdrawal from work or social activities

Because other diseases often cause similar symptoms, a comprehensive evaluation is essential to ensure the correct diagnosis and optimal treatment. Not all dementia-related problems are caused by Alzheimer's disease, but any symptoms associated with memory, judgment or difficulty performing daily tasks, as well as any abnormal behavior or mood swings, should be discussed with your healthcare professional.

Dr. Gayatri Devi, MD

You are the best person to judge how your brain is functioning, so if you notice changes (forgetfulness, speech issues), you should go to the doctor. In this video, neurologist Gayatri Devi, MD, explains how to recognize early signs of Alzheimer's.

Dr. Dede Bonner
Health Education Specialist
A family doctor who has seen a person regularly for years can recognize subtle changes as the warning signs of dementia, defined as the progressive decline in cognitive function due to disease and beyond normal aging. Ask yourself these questions and see your doctor for a complete evaluation if you or a loved one answers yes to several of them or is worried about Alzheimer’s disease (AD):
  • Does the person have a memory loss problem? Look for a worsening pattern of forgetting, especially of recently learned information.
  • Does the person have difficulty performing familiar tasks? Suddenly you or your loved one can't do routine tasks, such as reading the car's fuel gauge, figuring out which coins to give to the store clerk, or preparing a favorite recipe.
  • Does the person have language problems? We all grope for words occasionally, but someone with AD frequently has a greater difficulty when describing commonplace objects such as a table, a toaster, or a toothbrush.
  • Is the person often disoriented about the current time and place? Ask the person for today's date and the time on his or her watch or the hallway clock. A person with the disease may not be able to answer the question. Another sign is a person getting lost in his or her own neighborhood.
  • Does the person show poor or decreased judgment? Examples includes making poor financial decisions, wearing sandals in the snow, or wanting to go shopping at two in the morning.
  • Does the person have problems with abstract thinking or reasoning? Forgetting how to use numbers, do simple arithmetic, describe objects' appearances, discuss concepts, or solve problems may signal AD.
  • Is the person frequently misplacing things?
  • Do you notice changes in the person’s mood or behavior? People with AD may demonstrate rapid mood swings and behaviors ranging from sunny calmness to sudden anger to tears for no obvious reason.
  • Are there changes in his or her personality? Even the sweetest-tempered person with AD can become agitated, paranoid, irritable, fearful, or highly dependent for no obvious reason.
  • Does the person exhibit a loss of initiative? Alzheimer's disease can cause passivity, depression, and reluctance to do much of anything.
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These 10 warning signs from the Alzheimer’s Association ( may help determine if the problem is simply forgetfulness or something more serious:
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Forgetting where we left our keys or why we walked into a room is common. However, consistently forgetting important dates, events or recently learned information is not.
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems. When paying bills, planning a get-together or making a grocery list become challenging, professional attention may be warranted.
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home,  work or leisure. If common activities, such as picking up the kids from school or planning a meeting agenda at work, seem to become more difficult or confusing, take note.
  • Confusion over time or place. People with Alzheimer's may have trouble remembering dates and times. They may be unable to remember what day of the week it is, when something happened or how they got where they are.
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. Many of us experience vision changes as we get older, but they can be corrected with reading glasses or cataract surgery. People with Alzheimer’s, however, may have problems judging distance, color and spatial relationships.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may use the wrong words, get “stuck” in a conversation or repeat themselves.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things where they don’t belong or be unable to find things they have misplaced.
  • Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. They may have problems with spending or pay less attention to their appearance or personal care.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities. Hobbies, get-togethers, work projects or sports may become too challenging or require too much effort for people with Alzheimer’s; as a result, they may become less social and more withdrawn.
  • Changes in mood and personality. People with Alzheimer's may seem confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset, especially when they are outside their comfort zone.
Shelley Webb
Nursing Specialist
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are 10 common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:
  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality

When it comes to brain problems, it's not easy to diagnose yourself or a loved one. Yes, you'd like to write off a memory lapse as a natural part of aging, and in many instances, it is. But this checklist of the seven early signs of Alzheimer's can help you decide whether you or a family member needs further attention. Do you:

  • Ask the same questions over and over?
  • Repeat the same story over and over (and not because your kids are tuning you out yet again)?
  • Forget how to do something that you normally can do easily?
  • Get lost in familiar surroundings?
  • Misplace things often?
  • Neglect to bathe?
  • Rely on someone else to make decisions you'd normally make yourself? (Not applicable to men married more than a decade.)
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.