Millions of adults throughout the United States are living with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to those diagnosed, many others are living with the disease but don’t have enough signs to be diagnosed, and the onset of Alzheimer’s can happen as early as your late 30s. That’s why it’s so important to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of the condition.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that leads to several side effects, including an overall progressive decline in social skills, thinking ability, memory, and behavior. While about 5.8 million people in the United States are currently living with one of the stages of Alzheimer’s, research is still pinpointing the exact causes of the disease to hopefully develop new treatments.
What Are the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease?
One of the most significant symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, which is often why adults first visit the doctor to express their concerns. The onset of Alzheimer’s can vary from person to person though, and the progression can also vary greatly, so it’s essential to work with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. However, the signs of the disease are generally divided into stages.
Early-Stage Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
Early-stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s are generally tied to memory loss and more minor cognitive issues. They include:
- Asking the same question multiple times
- Having trouble thinking of a word
- Forgetting events (planned or in the past)
- Misplacing items more than usual or putting them in strange places
- Having a hard time making decisions
- Trouble paying bills or budgeting money
- Increased hesitancy about changing routines or trying different things
Many patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when they experience early-stage symptoms which can also coincide with other mood changes that are often in response to memory differences. For example, adults experiencing signs of early onset Alzheimer’s might experience agitation or anxiety due to their awareness of the symptoms, not necessarily due to the disease itself.
Middle-Stage Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The middle stages of Alzheimer’s involve more severe memory challenges that start to substantially impact a patient’s daily life. For example, it may become hard to remember who friends and family members are. Some patients also have other symptoms, including:
- Getting lost frequently
- Not being able to keep track of what time it is, what day it is, or what time of year it is
- Engaging in repetitive behavior
- Feeling paranoid
- Trouble sleeping
- Impulsive behavior that is out of character
- Difficulty completing tasks that require numerous steps, like cooking or getting dressed
- Trouble learning new things
- Mood swings or other changes in mood
Since some of these symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be more severe, patients with middle-stage symptoms will generally require regular assistance from a caretaker, family member, or a home health aide. Some of these patients may also struggle to complete basic personal care tasks, like eating and getting dressed.
Advanced-Stage Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
In contrast with the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, the advanced symptoms take a much bigger toll on the patient, their quality of life, and on their loved ones. Symptoms of the final stages of Alzheimer’s include:
- Trouble eating and swallowing
- Weight loss
- Severe short-term and long-term memory challenges
- Violent or aggressive behavior
- Inappropriate behavior
- Trouble walking or moving
Are the Signs of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Different?
Some people use the term early-onset Alzheimer’s interchangeably with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but there are critical differences between the two. Early-onset Alzheimer’s refers to adults who experience the symptoms at an early age, like in their 40s or 50s. Typically, the onset of early stages of Alzheimer’s occurs at the age of 65 or later.
The signs of early onset Alzheimer’s are largely the same as the regular signs of the disease. Still, it is often tough to diagnose because doctors factor age in with the diagnosis, and they are more likely to explore other avenues first. There is no single test to determine if the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s a patient is experiencing is the disease, so instead, doctors will use imaging tests to examine the brain, genetic testing, and a patient’s medical history.
When Does the Onset of Alzheimer’s Occur?
If a patient does not experience signs of early onset Alzheimer’s under the age of 65, they might start to notice symptoms in their mid-60s if they are to get the disease. About 90% of patients are 65 and older when these signs begin. The risk of developing the condition increases as they age, and there is a possibility of the first symptoms of the condition appearing at any point during their later years.
What Are the Causes of Alzheimer’s?
While dementia and other forms of memory loss have occurred for decades, scientists are only now starting to understand why this happens as one ages. Current Alzheimer’s research suggests that proteins and plaques in the brain negatively impact the communication between cells. For example, tau proteins in neurons transform and reorganize themselves. The changed structure can be toxic to other healthy cells in the brain and prevent proper nutrient transportation.
What Are the Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s?
The biggest risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is age. However, this condition is not an inevitable part of aging, and not all adults are diagnosed with this disease. You have a higher chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s if you have a direct relative, like a sibling or parent, who has also had a form of dementia. There is a small genetic component to Alzheimer’s, as there are three genes that may form unique mutations, that are correlated with the disease.
Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is a type of memory issue found earlier in life that also increases your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. If you are diagnosed with MCI, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can reduce the odds of it progressing to dementia. Some of the other risk factors include:
- Exposure to air pollution
- Head trauma (TBI or concussions)
- Excessive alcohol drinking
- Insomnia or poor sleep schedule
- Poor fitness
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes that is uncontrolled
- High cholesterol
Working with a medical professional is one way to lower your risk and ensure that you get a diagnosis as soon as possible. A doctor can also assist with discerning whether the symptoms you are experiencing are related to Alzheimer’s or simply a normal result of aging. For example, forgetting an appointment time and remembering you had one after the fact is a normal sign of aging. Forgetting multiple appointments completely could be cause for concern.
Get the Right Diagnosis with Help from the TopLine MD Alliance
If you notice some of these signs of Alzheimer’s in a loved one, or are concerned that you might be developing dementia, it can be overwhelming to determine the next steps. The right doctors and care team will equip you with the knowledge you need to stay healthy and happy for as long as possible. The TopLine MD Alliance is proud to provide patients like you with access to knowledgeable medical professionals who are compassionate and understanding.
To schedule your appointment with a TopLine MD Alliance affiliated doctor, use the convenient Find a Provider button. This free tool allows you to find the perfect medical provider near you with experience in Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other memory concerns. Every affilaited provider cares about you receiving the high level of care that you deserve, and we are here to help.