Is it Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer Disease is the leading cause of dementia — a set of symptoms that includes loss of memory, judgement and reasoning, and changes in mood and behaviour.

Sometimes, people fail to recognize that these symptoms indicate that something is wrong. They may mistakenly assume that such behaviour is a normal part of aging — it isn’t. Or symptoms may develop gradually and go unnoticed for a long time.

It is important to see your doctor when you recognize these symptoms as they may be due to other treatable conditions. If the diagnosis is Alzheimer Disease, help is available.

To help you know what warning signs to look for, the Alzheimer Society has developed a checklist of common symptoms (some of them may apply to other forms of dementia). Review the list — if you notice several symptoms, the person with the symptoms should see a doctor for a complete examination.

  1. Memory loss that affects day-to-day function

    It’s normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues’ names or a friend’s phone number and remember them later. A person with Alzheimer Disease may forget things more often and not remember them later, especially things that he happened more recently.

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks

    Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may leave the carrots on the stove and only remember to serve them at the end of the meal. A person with Alzheimer Disease may be unable to prepare any part of a meal or forget they ate it.

  • Problems with language

    Everyone has trouble finding the right words sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer Disease may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making his or her sentences difficult to understand.

  • Disorientation of time and place

    It’s normal to forget the day of the week or your destination — for a moment. But a person with Alzheimer Disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.

  • Poor or decreased judgement

    People may sometimes put off going to the doctor if they have an infection but eventually seek medical attention. A person with Alzheimer Disease may not recognize the infection as a problem or go to the doctor at all. Or they may dress inappropriately, wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.

  • Problems with abstract thinking

    From time to time, people may find balancing a cheque book difficult. Someone with Alzheimer Disease could forget completely what the numbers are and what needs to be done with them. Celebrating a birthday is something many people do, but a person with Alzheimer Disease may not understand what a birthday is.

  • Misplacing things

    Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with Alzheimer Disease may put things in inappropriate places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

  • Changes in mood or behaviour

    Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time. Someone with Alzheimer Disease can exhibit rapid mood swings — from calm to tears to anger — for no apparent reason.

  • Changes in personality

    People’s personalities can change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer Disease can change dramatically, becoming extremely confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include apathy, fearfulness or acting inappropriately.

  • Loss of initiative

    It’s normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. A person with Alzheimer Disease may become very passive, and require cues and prompting to become involved.

  • For more information, see our brochure “Getting a Diagnosis: Finding Out If It Is Alzheimer Disease,” available from your local Alzheimer Society or by calling 1-800-616-8816.

    Adapted with permission from the American Alzheimer’s Association, U.S.

    “Is It Alzheimer Disease? 10 Warning Signs” has been released as part of the 1998 Alzheimer Awareness campaign. This campaign is generously supported by Bayer Inc., Bowen and Binstock Advertising, Hoechst Marion Roussel Canada Inc., Novartis Pharma Canada and Pfizer Canada Inc.