It’s normal to every once in a while forget a phone number, the day of the week, or what you just came in to a room to do. Memory changes, confusion, and disorientation associated with Alzheimer’s, however, grow progressively worse over time. The early-stage warning signs may develop gradually and go unnoticed, or, in many cases, they’re initially mistaken for the normal aging process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the 11th leading cause of death for adults age 65 and older. While the cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still uncertain, researchers agree that the risk of developing the condition increases as a person ages.

It’s estimated that 4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and, unless a cure or significant treatment is found, it’s predicted that as many as 14 million will have the disease by 2050. To better help ourselves and/or our loved ones, all of us can benefit from knowing what the most common early-stage warning signs of Alzheimer’s are.

10 Possible Early Warning Signs:

If you or someone you love experiences any of the symptoms listed below, see your physician. A medical examination is the first and most important step if you suspect you or someone close to you might have Alzheimer’s.

    1. Recent memory loss that impairs the person’s ability to complete routine assignments at work and/or function effectively at home: May frequently forget names, phone numbers and work tasks and have trouble remembering them even when reminded.
    2. Problems with language: May progressively forget simple words, substitute inappropriate words, and/or make statements that don’t make sense.
    3. Disorientation in time and space and getting confused or lost in a familiar place: May leave their home and then forget where they intended to go, could become lost on a nearby street and not know how to get home.
    4. Difficulty completing familiar tasks: May, for example, prepare a meal but forget to serve it–or even forget that they ever made it.
    5. Distorted judgment: May dress inappropriately, completely forget what they’ve set out to do mid-task, or forget key routine tasks, such as keeping set appointments or caring for their pet.
    6. Problems with abstract thinking: May have trouble with simple mathematical calculations such as balancing a checkbook or remembering a familiar, often-used phone number.
    7. Misplacing things: May put things in inappropriate places, such as putting their keys in the microwave, toothbrush in the kitchen cabinet, or their briefcase in the refrigerator.
    8. Repeated and sudden changes in mood and behavior: May begin exhibiting out-of-character rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.
    9. Changes in personality: May start to act in ways that are counter to their usual personality style, for example, acting suspicious, fearful, or confused.
    10. Loss of initiative to do things: May become passive, unresponsive, express little interest in previously enjoyed activities and require real encouragement to get involved.

Studies indicate that as many as one in ten cases of dementia-like symptoms may actually be caused by something less serious and more reversible, such as medication or depression.

When testing for Alzheimer’s, a doctor will perform a physical exam and do tests to analyze memory and reasoning skills. No individual’s Alzheimer’s progresses with the same symptoms or at the same rate. For instance, some people with Alzheimer’s become paranoid and combative, while others remain placid; some like to wander; still others change their waking and sleeping hours.

Early Diagnosis

People with Alzheimer’s can live for another ten or even twenty years after the onset of their disease. Early diagnosis can make it easier for both sufferers and their families to weigh their options early on and to prepare for the changes that come as the disease progresses. But most important is learning to see the disease for what it is, changing your expectations of what someone with Alzheimer’s will be like, and remembering that this can take time.

Getting Professional Support

Alzheimer’s is an organic process and progresses over time. Early diagnosis can help individuals and their loved ones have as much time as possible to do the best they can with circumstances that are beyond their control. Working with a therapist can provide information and support for the whole family. Therapy can provide crucial insight into what to next anticipate, how best to cope day by day, and ways to move through the inevitable mix of emotions, including loss, anger, hope, intensified love, frustration, alienation, helplessness, grief, and a deepened awareness of both the power and the fragility of the human experience.