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 older people.

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

In the early stages, it can sometimes 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, but certain changes are characteristic of the disease.

Typical early symptoms of Alzheimer’s may include:

  • Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
  • Becoming increasingly repetitive, e.g. repeating questions after a very short interval.
  • Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Uncertainty about the date or time of day.
  • A person becoming unsure of their whereabouts or getting lost, particularly in unusual surroundings.
  • Problems finding the right words.
  • Becoming low in mood, anxious or irritable, losing self-confidence or showing less interest in what’s happening.

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

As Alzheimer’s progresses:

  • People find that their ability to remember, think and make decisions worsens.
  • Communication and language become more difficult.
  • People may have difficulty recognising household objects or familiar faces.
  • Day-to-day tasks become harder, for example using a TV remote control, phone or kitchen appliance. People may also have difficulty locating objects in front of them.
  • Changes in sleep patterns often occur.
  • Some people become sad, depressed or frustrated about the challenges they face. Anxieties are also common and people may seek extra reassurance or become fearful or suspicious.
  • People may experience hallucinations, where they may see things or people that aren’t there.
  • People may become increasingly unsteady on their feet and are at greater risk of falling.
  • Daily activities like dressing, toileting and eating become more difficult, and people gradually require more help.

This information was updated in May 2016 and is due for review in May 2018. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.

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