The symptoms associated with dementia, irrespective of the type of dementia suffered, are similar which may cause some delay in receiving a definitive diagnosis.

In those small number of cases where diagnosis cannot be confirmed by genetic or psychological testing, Alzheimer’s disease may only be confirmed at post mortem. Memory loss, in particular loss of short term memory, is the key symptom intrinsic to all dementias including the dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However, while there may be overlap in symptoms between the different dementias, the causes of respective disorders are likely to be different.

Indications of Alzheimer’s

Indications of the disease vary from person to person but generally they will include:

  • an inability to recall names;
  • a lack of concentration;
  • a poor sense of time;
  • difficulty in word finding, and perceiving and understanding the environment.
  • Emotional changes are commonly observed, such as mood swings and emotional upsets leading to tearfulness or aggressive outbursts.

Such symptoms may increase in severity or additional symptoms may be experienced, such as

  • disorientation in time and space,
  • inappropriate behaviour,
  • false accusations, repetitive questioning and more generally,
  • an inability to perform routine, everyday tasks.

For those people who become self-neglectful or who wander, there is the need for constant supervision.

Although Alzheimer’s disease most commonly occurs in people aged over 65 years, it can affect individuals in their 20’s and 30’s. Loss of memoryis the symptom most commonly associated with the disease, but this may also be attributed to the normal aging process. The diagnosis may be further missed as there is no set age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease or rate of decline, and this is particularly relevant when diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in young people. However, becoming increasingly muddled, losing objects, loss of interest in food, hobbies and friends and, generally withdrawing from the world may be indicators of a more insidious degenerative process.

Alzheimer’s disease may be confirmed through a range of different tests undertaken in Memory Clinics.

In some cases, deterioration may be sudden and obvious to the person and to those around them. However, sometimes the loss of cognitive ability may be more gradual. This may cause the person affected to become anxious and secretively worried about their loss of mental sharpness, as a result of which, others may note an increase in irritability and withdrawal from day-to-day events.

Alzheimer’s patients may live for up to as many as 15 years post-diagnosis during which time they may experience language difficulties, depression, paranoia, aggressive outbursts, delusions and hallucinations (referred to as psychotic symptoms). While not all individuals will suffer these problems, personality loss and dependency are observed as end stages of the disease. It is therefore important that care and management of the Alzheimer’s sufferer is discussed and planned, not only with the individual himself, but also together with the family before the disease has entered its advanced stages.

It is important to note that some symptoms may be associated with other neurological disorders, such as brain tumours, transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes; concussion; alcohol-induced amnesia or other factors. As with any illness or disease, symptoms should be promptly and thoroughly investigated.

If you think you, a relative or a friend may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease we recommend that you monitor and record the symptoms experienced and then seek medical advice.

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