Those with Alzheimer’s disease know that the well-recognized sign is memory loss. However, it is not the only sign of the disease. There are non-memory-related Alzheimer’s signs; they can present themselves early and if attended to, can lead to a diagnosis.
- Apathy. Often unrecognized, apathy is perhaps the most common behavioral change in a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Apathy presents as a decline in the person’s daily functioning and ability to think, along with an increased reliance on family or friends for care. It is associated with changes in the tissue of the brain. It can be mistaken for depression because of some similar symptoms, but it is important for a physician to make a distinction, because apathy and depression each can be treated with unique interventions.
- Changes in personal hygiene. People with Alzheimer’s may display changes in their normal level of personal hygiene, wearing dirty clothes, resisting bathing, etc.
- Problems with dressing can be caused by confusion about too many choices, or decreased ability to tell colors apart, lack of coordination or memory about how to get dressed, depression or apathy and embarrassment about the difficulty. By reducing the number of choices, arranging clothes in the sequence they should be put on, and substituting easier fastenings, such as Velcro closings, larger zippers and easy to pull-on items for those with more complicated buttons, can make dressing easier to handle.
- In the case of washing or bathing, the cause may be fear about slipping and falling, phobias around water, and apathy, among others. To encourage bathing, equipping the bath area with grab bars and non-skid strips, soap on a rope and options to shower standing or sitting can be helpful.
- Failure to groom can also have various causes, from arthritis to memory loss to apathy and embarrassment. Clearing the bathroom of nonessential items and laying out the tools, such as a brush and comb, razor, toothbrush and paste, in sequence, is useful. If the tools are difficult to grip and use, look for specially designed grooming products for people with arthritis or strength limitation.
- Anxiety and depression are recognized behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s, along with sleep problems, agitation and aggression, all associated with the changes in the brain caused by the disease. Treating these symptoms can make living with Alzheimer’s a little more comfortable for the patient and caregiver.
- Anxiety, which may manifest as agitation, is the result of the biological experience of the loss, which is profound, of the ability to deal with new information and situations, such as changes in the environment, travel and moving to a different location. As such, it is a direct result of Alzheimer’s.
- Depression is common in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease as the individual is aware of diminishing mental functioning. Depression may be hard to diagnose because the symptoms can overlap with those of Alzheimer’s. It should not be ignored; a physician can diagnose and prescribe treatment that can help relieve the symptoms. Regular exercise, an increase in pleasurable activities and support group meetings can be helpful.
- Vision changes. The changes that Alzheimer’s disease makes in the brain can cause vision problems to develop, including loss of acuity, color vision and changes to the field of vision. These effects can make it more difficult to read, identify objects and comprehend spaces. Changes in vision by themselves do not make for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but this sign is often experienced by people who are experiencing the other early signs of the disease.
These signs should be followed up with a doctor’s visit, whether you or your loved one has already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or not. Each symptom can be treated and at least somewhat relieved or made more comfortable. It is also important for your physician and a caregiver to be aware of all of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s in order to provide the best care.