The purpose of this list is to alert the public to the early warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. If someone has several or even most of these symptoms, it does not mean they definitely have the disease. It does mean they should be thoroughly examined by a medical specialist trained in evaluating memory disorders, or by a comprehensive memory disorder clinic, with an entire team of experts knowledgeable about memory problems.
- Asking the same question over and over again.
- Repeating the same story, word for word, again and again.
- Forgetting how to cook, or how to make repairs, or how to play cards—activities that were previously done with ease and regularity.
- Losing one's ability to pay bills or balance one's checkbook.
- Getting lost in familiar surroundings, or misplacing household objects.
- Neglecting to bathe, or wearing the same clothes over and over again, while insisting that they have taken a bath or that their clothes are still clean.
- Relying on someone else, such as a spouse, to make decisions or answer questions they previously would have handled themselves.
* National Institute on Aging; Reprinted with permission of The Suncoast Gerontology Center, University of South Florida.
How Alzheimer's Changes the Brain
The only definite way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease is with an autopsy—an examination of the body after death. In severe Alzheimer's disease, abnormal growths called plaques and tangles are widespread throughout the brain and most areas of the brain have shrunk (above right).
Understanding Alzheimer's–Free Videos Can Help
The NIHSeniorHealth Web site (www.nihseniorhealth.gov) offers a collection of free instructional videos to help the public understand Alzheimer's disease, how it is diagnosed, and current research. In this video, Cognitive Test for Alzheimer's, psychiatrist Dr. Peter V. Rabins, an expert on Alzheimer's, shows how he works with a patient to test for the presence or absence of the disease. Dr. Rabins is the author of The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer's Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life. NIHSeniorHealth.gov offers videos on many other diseases, as well.
Latest NIH Research
- NIH's National Institute on Aging (NIA) leads the federal government's research efforts on AD. Scientists at NIA-supported Alzheimer's Disease Centers and other research institutions conduct clinical trials and carry out a variety of studies, looking at the causes, diagnosis, and management of AD. NIA also sponsors the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative Study, a group of leading AD researchers throughout the United States and Canada who conduct clinical trials on promising AD treatments.
- The NIA's Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) is an ongoing study that uses advanced imaging techniques, as well as biomarker measures found in blood and spinal fluid, to track subtle changes in the brain before symptoms appear and during the course of the disease. The researchers are seeking a range of volunteers, from those free of memory problems to those with diagnosed AD. To volunteer or learn more about the study, contact the NIA Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at 1-800-438-4380 or go to www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers.
- Until recently, only four genes were associated with risk for developing AD. Mutations in three of those genes cause a rare, early-onset form of AD, and one increased risk for developing the more common, late-onset AD, which generally occurs after age 60. However, researchers conducting large-scale genetics studies have now identified several other strong candidate genes, including CR1, CLU, PICALM, and SORL1. These and other genes recently implicated in AD are being verified and characterized to see how they many influence the development of AD.
Ask Your Health Professional
- If I have AD, will my children inherit it from me?
- What risk factors may contribute to AD?
- What is the difference between Alzheimer's and dementia?
- What is "mild cognitive impairment"?
- What other conditions have symptoms like AD?
- If a member of my family has AD, am I at increased risk for developing it?
- Are there effective drugs to stop AD?
- Are there steps I can take to prevent Alzheimer's?
- What type of arrangements should I make before the disease worsens?