Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in the elderly.

Alzheimer’s often develops slowly over several years. It is not always obvious to begin with and symptoms can overlap with other illnesses.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish Alzheimer’s from mild forgetfulness which can be seen in normal ageing.

Everyone with Alzheimer’s will experience symptoms in their own way. Early signs usually include difficulties forming new memories, but people may also experience language or spatial awareness difficulties.

Typical early symptoms of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
  • Becoming increasingly repetitive.
  • Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Confusion about the time of day.
  • Disorientation, especially away from your normal surroundings.
  • Getting lost.
  • Problems finding the right words.
  • Mood or behaviour problems such as apathy, irritability, or losing confidence.

Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, but the speed of change varies from person to person.

As Alzheimer’s progresses:

  • People will find that their ability to remember, think and make decisions worsens.
  • Communication and language become more difficult.
  • A person’s behaviour may change and some people can become sad or depressed.
  • Anxieties or phobias are quite common.
  • People may experience hallucinations, where they may see things or people that aren’t there.
  • Problems with sleeping and restlessness at night often occur.
  • Anger or agitation become more common.
  • People may become increasingly unsteady on their feet and fall more often.
  • People gradually require more help with daily activities like dressing, toileting and eating.

This information was written in April 2014 and is due for review in April 2016. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.