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A guide to Alzheimer's disease symptoms

It’s normal for people to become a little forgetful as they get older, so how can you tell the difference between whether you or a loved one is just having a harmless “senior moment”, or starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease?

One in eight people aged 65 or over suffer from this devastating form of dementia, and in its early stages, the symptoms are generally mild to start with, but as more brain cells are damaged over time, the symptoms get worse and begin to interfere with day-to-day life. Friends and family may not catch the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, however, an early diagnosis can provide the patient with a better chance of benefitting from treatment, and also ensures that the person with Alzheimer’s is able to make decisions about how they may wish to be cared for the in the future while it’s still possible for them to do so.

We understand how sad and frightening it can be to realise that you or a friend or family member could be developing Alzheimer’s. This article will help you to learn and understand the signs of Alzheimer’s, as well as offer advice on what to do if you think you or someone you love may be affected.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in the UK, affecting around six in every ten people with dementia. Some people can have more than one type of dementia; this is referred to as ‘mixed dementia’, for example, they might have Alzheimer’s as well as vascular dementia.

Our brains naturally change as we age, and our thought processes slow down. However, for those with Alzheimer’s disease, the changes are different due to the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells. It’s not known exactly what causes this process to begin, although scientists now understand that it begins many years before symptoms appear.

As brain cells become affected, there is a decrease in the neurotransmitters involved in sending messages or signals between the brain cells. Over time, different areas of the brain shrink. The first areas usually affected are responsible for memory.

What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

The exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not yet fully understood; however, several factors are known to increase one’s risk of developing the condition:

Age

This is the single most significant factor. The likelihood of someone developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles around every five years after reaching 65. However, people under this age can also develop it. In the UK, around one in twenty people who suffer from the condition are under 65. This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Family history

Although the risk is small, the genes inherited from parents can contribute to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There’s a very small number of families where Alzheimer’s is caused by the inheritance of a single gene and the risk of the condition being passed on are much higher; this pattern is very rare and in the few families where it does occur, dementia tends to develop well before the age of 65.

Down’s syndrome

People with Down’s syndrome are at a much higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease due to the difference in their genetic makeup which can cause amyloid plaques to build up in the brain over time. The Alzheimer’s Association has more information on Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lifestyle and cardiovascular disease

According to the NHS, research shows that several lifestyle factors and conditions associated with cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. These include smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You can help lower your risk by leading a healthy and active lifestyle (both physically and mentally).

What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition. The symptoms are generally mild to start with, and can vary from person to person, as well as the rate at which the symptoms progress.

Typically, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are divided into three main stages:

Early-stage symptoms

In the early stages, you may start to notice the person is experiencing increasing memory lapses and changes in their mood, for example, they may experience anxiety, agitation, or periods of confusion.

Someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s may:

  • Forget about recent conversations or events

  • Misplace or lose items

  • Ask questions repeatedly

  • Experience confusion, disorientation, or become lost in familiar places

  • Become less flexible

  • Find it harder to make decisions, show poor judgment and become hesitant to try new things

At this stage, we understand that trying to promote a sense of independence is important, however, this can be a frightening prospect for both the person with Alzheimer’s and anyone who cares for them. There are lots of ways in which you can support your loved one so they can live in their own home safer and for longer, including getting them a personal alarm with GPS.

Read more on how to help someone with dementia.

Middle-stage symptoms

As Alzheimer’s disease develops, the patient may find it increasingly difficult to remember the names of people they know and may struggle to recognise their family and friends. You may notice other symptoms develop, such as:

  • Increasing confusion and disorientation, for example, not knowing what time of day it is

  • Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that other people do not), delusions (believing things that are not true) or feeling paranoid and suspicious about family members or carers

  • Obsessive, repetitive or impulsive behaviour

  • Changes in mood (such as frequent mood swings, depression or feeling increasingly anxious, frustrated or agitated)

  • Problems with speech or language

  • Disturbed sleep

  • Difficulty performing spatial tasks

By this stage, they will usually need support to help them with everyday living, for example, they may require help eating, washing, getting dressed and using the toilet.

Later symptoms

The symptoms become increasingly severe in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease and can be distressing for the person suffering from the condition and for their friends, family and carers. Hallucinations and delusions are likely to worsen as the condition progresses, and often people can become violent, demanding, and suspicious of those around them at this stage.

In the later stages, several other symptoms may also develop, such as:

  • Difficulty eating or swallowing

  • Weight loss, sometimes severe

  • Incontinence

  • Inability to change position or move around without assistance

  • Significant issues with short and long-term memory

  • Gradual loss of speech

In the severe stages, your loved one may require full-time care with assistance in eating, moving and personal care.

Getting a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

Many people feel that memory problems are just a part of ageing, and it can be difficult to recognise the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the early stages. However, if you are recognising changes in your own or your loved one’s memory and behaviour, it’s a good idea to make an appointment to see a GP who will carry out some simple checks to try and find out what the cause may be. If they suspect Alzheimer’s, they will refer over to a specialist service to assess the situation in more detail.

It’s important to remember that memory problems can also be caused by depression, stress, medicines or other health problems.

An accurate and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s a person the best chance to prepare and plan for the future, as well as receive any treatment or support that may help them as the disease progresses.

Is there a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

Sadly, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, though there are medicines available that can help relieve some of the symptoms.

Various types of support are available to help people with Alzheimer’s live as independently as possible. Changes in the home environment can be made so it’s easier to remember daily tasks and move around, whilst therapy may also be offered to help support memory, problem-solving skills and language ability.


If you want to keep your loved one safe and independent in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible, digital in-home personal alarms allow you or your loved one to call for help in the event of an emergency. The SureSafe Guardian is equipped with a host of useful features for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s.

Call SureSafe's team of experts on 0800 112 3201 to learn more about our personal alarms and how they can help if your loved one is suffering from Alzheimer's.

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