Alzheimer’s often develops slowly over several years, so symptoms are not always obvious at first.

A loss of interest and enjoyment in day-to-day activities can often be one of the first noticeable symptoms, but this can be subtle and may be mistaken for other conditions such as depression. 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.

Layla Andrews

My mum Karen was a school bursar and was always really good with numbers. She started struggling with simple sums and became quite forgetful. She also got confused when she couldn't do things which she knew she should be able to.

- Layla, whose mum has Alzheimer's disease

Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s may include:

  • Memory: regularly forgetting recent events, names, and faces.
  • Confusion: getting confused about the date or time of day.
  • Repetition: becoming increasingly repetitive, e.g. repeating the same question over and over or repeating behaviours and routines.
  • Disorientation: people may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.
  • Language: problems finding the right words.
  • Misplacing things: regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Mood and behaviour: some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable. Others may lose self-confidence, show less interest in what’s happening around them or just start to do a lot less.

As the disease gets worse

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

  • Memory and thinking skills: people will find that their ability to remember, think and make decisions gets worse.
  • Communication: speaking and understanding people becomes more difficult.
  • Recognition: people may have difficulty recognising household objects or familiar faces.
  • Day-to-day tasks, such as using a TV remote control, phone or using the kettle become harder.
  • Sleeping: changes to sleep patterns often occur, such as waking frequently during the night.
  • Behaviour: some people become sad, depressed, or frustrated about the challenges they face. Anxiety is also common, and people may become fearful or suspicious.
  • Physical changes: people may have problems walking, be unsteady on their feet, find swallowing food more difficult or have seizures.
  • Hallucinations and delusions: 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’.
  • Care: people gradually require more help with daily activities like dressing, eating, and using the toilet.
  • Sundowning: people with Alzheimer’s can experience increased confusion and anxiety during the evening and at night. This is called sundowning.

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This information was updated in May 2022 and is due to be reviewed in May 2024. It was written by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers. Please get in touch if you’d like a version with references or in a different format.

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