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, so symptoms are not always obvious at first. A loss of interest and involvement in day-to-day activities can often be one of the first changes, but this can be subtle and can be mistaken for other conditions. In the early stages of the disease, it can also be difficult to distinguish memory problems associated with Alzheimer’s from mild forgetfulness that can be seen in normal ageing.

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.
  • People may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.
  • Problems finding the right words.
  • Some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable. Others may lose self-confidence or show less interest in what’s happening around them.

 As the disease develops

Alzheimer’s develops over time, but the speed of change varies between people. As Alzheimer’s progresses, symptoms may include:

  • People will 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.
  • These 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 see or hear things that aren’t there. Others may believe things to be true that haven’t actually happened, known as ‘delusions’.
  • People may have problems walking, be unsteady on their feet, find swallowing food more difficult or have seizures.
  • People gradually require more help with daily activities like dressing, eating and using the toilet.

This information was updated in May 2018 and is due for review in May 2020. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.