Alzheimer's disease is generally considered to be a progressive condition that can affect people as they age. However, the initial deterioration of the brain Alzheimer’s disease causes can happen many years before any noticeable behavioral changes occur.
Eventually, though, Alzheimer's early symptoms may appear—and learning how to recognize them can help you or a loved one seek adequate support.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common and easily identified signs of Alzheimer’s disease that you may want to be on the lookout for. We’ll also explore possible supportive solutions if you or a loved one suspect that you might be experiencing Alzheimer’s disease.
1. Memory Loss
One of the first symptoms to be reported for many experiencing early-stage Alzheimer's disease can be a loss of memory, which can include working memory and long-term declarative memory. Even if the individual with the condition does not realize their forgetfulness, friends, family and caretakers might be the first ones to notice these changes.
A memory decline can be mild or subtle at first, possibly indicated by short-term memory loss or excessive forgetfulness. In this stage, people may also repeat themselves very often or misplace things easily. Eventually, this can evolve into the person not remembering people, including those closest to them.
Alzheimer's patients might also lose their memory of smell, and can have an impaired sense of scent recognition. This can result in behavioral changes. For example, if food starts to smell malodorous, this can cause the person to think the food is rotten, potentially leading to malnutrition.
2. Completing Tasks And Problem-Solving Skills
Another cognitive function that can be affected by Alzheimer’s can be the ability to carry out everyday activities and solve problems. Losing problem-solving skills can be particularly problematic, because many senior citizens live by themselves and may not be able to communicate when they need help or guidance.
Some tasks that someone with early Alzheimer's symptoms might find difficulty in include:
- Sorting out medication
- Managing finances
- Driving a vehicle
The person might be very familiar with these activities at first—however, over time, their ability to remember how to do them can diminish. For example, a person might struggle to work with numbers, and therefore may find it difficult to manage a checkbook and pay their bills.
3. Difficulties With Time And Location
The ability to perceive time can arguably be an “essential” function of the human brain. However, when Alzheimer's disease takes effect, it can be compromised—possibly leading to time distortion.
Time can refer to many things. For example, it can indicate the current hour, or it can include the measurement of months, days and years. Those with early-onset Alzheimer's might seem to have a hard time remembering dates or might frequently forget what day of the week it is.
However, time perception can affect much more than our sense of the day and month. Feeling unable to navigate time accurately can lead some with Alzheimer’s disease to "time travel,” or use their thoughts to relive the past or imagine the future.
Symptoms like these can often tie in with a person's memory, and therefore may become more significant as the disease progresses.
In addition to time, people with early signs of Alzheimer's might also find it difficult to understand their physical location. They may be unaware of where they are presently, or how they got there in the first place. They may also fail to remember the directions to familiar places.
4. Poor Judgement And Decision Making
Decision-making can affect multiple areas of life, all of which can be negatively impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. Some examples can include:
- How to dress
- What to eat
- Proper hygiene
- How to handle money
- How to behave around others
Someone living with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s might have difficulties finding what clothes to wear—and might spend an excessive amount of time doing so. It can also be common for personal care to get neglected over time, which may result from poor hygiene and grooming habits.
If these situations are becoming increasingly common, assistance from a caregiver may be necessary to help a person with Alzheimer’s disease avoid undue injury, stress or other consequences.
5. Communication Issues
Although these can happen to healthy people, some early signs of Alzheimer's that can be linked to one’s ability to communicate include:
- Losing one’s train of thought
- Struggling to find the right words to express a thought
- Remembering what certain words mean
- Difficulty sustaining attention
- Sensitivity to vocal tone
Due to these factors, communicating with a friend or relative living with the disease may be difficult for those outside of the situation. It can help to keep in mind that communication challenges like these can be just as frustrating for a person with Alzheimer’s; and that it may be best to develop ways to communicate that are both approachable and straightforward.
In the early stages of Alzheimer's, there are generally plenty of strategies you can use to try to make communication easier. For example, if you need to inquire about something, you can try to be as specific as possible and limit the number of choices offered to avoid overwhelming your loved one.
6. Mood And Personality Changes
This last group of Alzheimer's early symptoms may be one of the most crucial ones to watch out for, as it can blend in with other psychiatric conditions: Psychosis.
It can be common for people with Alzheimer's disease to exhibit depressive symptoms, apathy, aggression and psychosis. In fact, for those living with Alzheimer's disease, depression has a comorbidity rate that can range from 25 to 75%.
Changes in mood and personality can be particularly significant because, at first glance, they can lead even a medical professional to misunderstand the true root of behavioral changes, with the result being an inaccurate diagnosis. When symptoms like these appear in conjunction with others that may be connected to Alzheimer’s, it can become easier to distinguish what’s really going on.
How Can Online Therapy Help Those Experiencing Alzheimer’s Disease?
In addition to speaking with a doctor about your concerns, it can be beneficial to receive care from a mental health professional, too.
Living with Alzheimer’s disease and the changes it can produce may be challenging for the person in question and their loved ones. A licensed therapist can offer advice, support, and help you find ways to experience joy and peace.
Additionally, for those with Alzheimer’s, resources like online therapy can be an especially easy way to connect with a professional. Because you don’t have to leave your own home to attend sessions, online therapy can help you save time, money and stress that might otherwise come with getting yourself or a family member to and from in-person appointments.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
Research generally supports online therapy’s ability to help many manage mental health concerns and meet patient needs. One recent review of 17 studies found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be just as effective as in-person options for addressing mental health symptoms that can be associated with Alzheimer’s. The same review also discovered that online CBT was generally regarded as a more cost-effective option for most clients than traditional therapy.
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