By Carol Combs, Oxford’s Memory Care Program Coordinator.

Dementia is a broad term that describes the progressive deterioration of a person’s memory. It affects the brain’s ability to think, reason and remember—and ultimately interferes with the person’s ability to function on a daily basis. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. It makes up about 70% of all dementia cases. It’s the 6th leading cause of death and an estimated five million Americans are living with the disease.

Dementia becomes more common with age, but is not a normal part of the aging process. For example, with normal aging, a person might misplace their keys, but then find them. However, a person with Alzheimer’s might misplace their keys, find them, but also forget what the keys are used for.

In the early stage of dementia, the signs and symptoms may be subtle. Early memory issues may present as depression, anxiety, mood or personality changes. By the time the person shows signs of the disease, the process in the brain could have been happening for a long time.

Here are 10 early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to look for (1, 2):

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life: This can include forgetting recently learned information, dates or events and needing memory aides such as calendars and notes.
  2. Challenges in planning or problem solving: Difficulty with concentration, tasks taking longer to accomplish, difficulty with working with numbers or following a plan
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure, following recipes, managing a budget and driving
  4. Confusion with time or place, losing track of dates, seasons, passage of time
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, vision problems, trouble reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing, trouble following or joining conversation or struggle with vocabulary
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, putting things in unusual places, may accuse others of stealing
  8. Decreased or poor judgment, changes in decision making ability, may pay less attention to grooming
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities, may remove themselves from hobbies, projects or socialization
  10. Changes in mood or personality, may be suspicious, depressed, fearful, anxious or more easily upset

Some medical conditions causing memory loss are treatable and should be evaluated. If you, or someone you know, are having any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical assessment immediately.

1 Mace, Nancy and Peter Rabins: The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss in Later Life (3rd Edition), Market Paperback, April 1, 2001

2 Alzheimer’s Association. What is Alzheimer’s?