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Early Alzheimer's Disease
Patient and Family Guide

© Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

The earlier the diagnosis, the more likely your symptoms will respond to treatment. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you think you or a family member may have signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Research is under way to find better ways to treat Alzheimer's disease. Ask your doctor if there are any new developments that might help you.

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Who Is Affected?
The chances of getting Alzheimer's disease increase with age. It usually occurs after age 65. Most people are not affected even at advanced ages. There are only two definite factors that increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease: a family history of dementia and Down syndrome.

Family History of Dementia
Some forms of Alzheimer's disease are inherited. If Alzheimer's disease has occurred in your family members, other members are more likely to develop it. Discuss any family history of dementia with your family doctor.

Down Syndrome
Persons with Down syndrome have a higher chance of getting Alzheimer's disease. Close relatives of persons with Down syndrome also may be at risk.

What Are the Signs of Alzheimer's Disease?
The classic sign of early Alzheimer's disease is gradual loss of short-term memory. Other signs include:

  • Inability to recognize objects.
  • Forgetting how to use simple, ordinary things, such as a pencil.
  • Forgetting to turn off the stove, close windows, or lock doors.
Mood and personality changes also may occur. Agitation, problems with memory, and poor judgment may cause unusual behavior. These symptoms vary from one person to the next.

Symptoms appear gradually in persons with Alzheimer's disease but may progress more slowly in some persons than in others. In other forms of dementia, symptoms may appear suddenly or may come and go.

If you have some of these signs, this does not mean you have Alzheimer's disease. Anyone can have a lapse of memory or show poor judgment now and then. When such lapses become frequent or dangerous, however, you should tell your doctor about them immediately.

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Possible Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Do you have problems with any of these activities:

  • Learning and remembering new information. Do you repeat things that you say or do? Forget conversations or appointments? Forget where you put things?
  • Handling complex tasks. Do you have trouble performing tasks that require many steps such as balancing a checkbook or cooking a meal?
  • Reasoning ability. Do you have trouble solving everyday problems at work or home, such as knowing what to do if the bathroom is flooded?
  • Spatial ability and orientation. Do you have trouble driving or finding your way around familiar places?
  • Language. Do you have trouble finding the words to express what you want to say?
  • Behavior. Do you have trouble paying attention? Are you more irritable or less trusting than usual?
Remember, everyone has occasional memory lapses. Just because you can't recall where you put the car keys doesn't mean you have Alzheimer's disease.
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Disclaimer: The information provided on HealthWorld Online is for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.