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Dementia and Alzheimer’s: signs and symptoms

People of all ages worry more about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia than they do about cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis combined. Millions of Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and dementia and the likelihood of diagnosis increases dramatically as we age.1  
While we don't know for sure what causes Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia and there is no cure, researchers believe that genetics, lifestyle, and environmental factors may play a role. Minimize fear and anxiety for yourself and your loved ones by learning more about these diseases.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a general term to describe specific symptoms that interfere with daily routines, like decline in memory, reasoning, and other thinking skills. It’s not part of normal aging.1

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. It’s a progressive brain disease that gets worse over time and slowly destroys memory, thinking, and the ability to learn new things. It often affects a person’s behavior, personality, and communication skills. There is no cure.2

Signs of dementia vs. normal age-related changes

Learn the signs of dementia or Alzheimer's disease—as well as the normal signs typically associated with growing older that don’t indicate disease. Not every cognitive stumble means your loved one needs a diagnosis, but many families dismiss the signs of this disease when their loved one is still in the early stage. Be aware that if your loved one shows just one of these warning signs, it might be a good idea to see a doctor.2 
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Forgetting recently learned information, important dates, or events, and relying more on reminders, notes, or family members for everyday activities. 
  • Normal age-related change: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later. 
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. 
  • Normal age-related change: Making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills. 

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a favorite game. 
  • Normal age-related change: Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show. 
4. Confusion with time or place 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Trouble understanding something that’s not happening immediately or forgetting where you are or how you got there. 
  • Normal age-related change: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later. 
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Problems with vision leading to balancing, reading, or driving issues. 
  • Normal age-related change: Vision changes related to cataracts. 
6. New problems with words when speaking or writing 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Trouble taking part in a conversation, such as repeating thoughts, difficulty naming a familiar object, or using the wrong name. 
  • Normal age-related change: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word. 

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Putting things in unusual places or accusing others of stealing, especially as the disease progresses. 
  • Normal age-related change: Misplacing things sometimes and retracing steps to find them. 
8. Decreased or poor judgment 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Using poor judgment when dealing with money, or paying less attention to grooming or washing. 
  • Normal age-related change: Making a bad decision or mistake occasionally, such as neglecting to change the oil in the car.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Withdrawing from hobbies or social engagements, or not keeping up with a favorite team. 
  • Normal age-related change: Sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations. 
10. Changes in mood or personality 
  • Alzheimer's warning signs: Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, anxious, or easily upset in familiar or unfamiliar situations. 
  • Normal age-related change: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted. 

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Education Center: Alzheimer’s Association

Resources, webinars, and training for supporting loved ones with dementia.
1. "2023 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures," Alzheimer's Association, 2023, 2. Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Sheldon Reid, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Signs, Symptoms, and Causes,” HelpGuide, March 28, 2023,

This information is general in nature and provided for educational purposes only.