Dementia Care – 11 signs of Alzheimer’s

Written by Zenya Smith28/06/17


Dementia Care
We take a look at the signs of Alzheimer’s, and explain which symptoms you may want to discuss with a medical professional, such as a GP.

1. Memory loss of recent memories

We all forget things occasionally, and forgetfulness often becomes more frequent as we grow older. For example we may forget the name of a television show we watched, or blank when trying to give directions.

There are a few reasons for this, firstly, the hippocampus – the part of the brain that forms and retrieves memories naturally slows down over time. The hormones in the brain that protect and repair brain cells, keeping them alert and healthy also decline with age too. And, older people are more likely to experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impact how they recall information.

However, if you’re finding that your loved one regularly forgets things that have happened recently, or is beginning to find it difficult to remember the names of people, objects or places, or is asking the same questions or doing the same thing over and over, this could be an indication of that something else is going on, and is something to talk to a GP about.

Example – “Dad started to buy lots of dog food, sometimes going multiple times a day to get more, despite already having lots in the cupboard.”

Did you know –

  • While many people think memory is the first cognitive function to decline with age, it’s actually speed of thinking. 
  • We lose 2% of our brain cells every year after the age of 20. 
  • The brain is only about 2% of a person’s body weight but uses 20% of the body’s energy. 


Age UK

2. Feeling unsettled by change 

Many of us like to do things a certain way, or have preferences that shape our daily routines. For older people who have spent decades building a life, it can be totally normal for them to be set in their ways and a little apprehensive or reluctant to change. 
However Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes amplify these feelings and cause people to become quite distressed in unfamiliar situations or when faced with a change in routine. Dementia impairs a person’s ability to plan for, initiate, and complete things. It makes it harder to understand the world. Having things suddenly change around them can lead a person withe dementia feel confused and out of control. They may also feel that they’re losing their independence.
Example – “I was late for my weekly visit and Mum refused to speak to me.”


3. Difficulty with problem-solving

If your loved one finds organised tasks difficult, such as following a recipe, where they didn’t before, this could be an indication of dementia. Many people with dementia struggle with managing their money, which may necessitate a family member stepping in to take charge.

However, it’s important to remember that as with any muscle, the brain can become weaker over time if it’s not getting a good work out. Lifestyle and daily habits can have a huge impact on how the brain functions in later life. Furthermore, the brain still has the ability to adapt and change even in old age, so taking up brain-boosting activities is really important, as it could help maintain or sharpen problem solving skills.

Example – ” Mum needed to buy some new walking boots for a holiday, but came back from the shops with very expensive designer boots. They were high heeled, not waterproof, and completely unsuitable.”


4. Struggling with familiar tasks

We all lose our keys from time to time, but if your loved one has started to lose their keys and find them in strange places, it could be something to raise with a GP. Becoming disorientated in familiar places, such as a relative’s home or the local supermarket, or forgetting the rules of a much-loved game are also signs of possible abnormal memory loss.

Example – “Mum always used to be very good on the computer and her phone, but now she’s really struggling to understanding emails or send a text message.” 

5. Confusion with place and time

Forgetting what day it is can be a normal experience for any of us, but losing complete track of dates, times and even the seasons are causes for concern. Over time, your loved one may become prone to becoming lost, even when close to home, and this is often the symptom that triggers a search for companion care solutions, such as live-in care to keep your loved one safe.

Example – “My mum’s lived in the same areas for 40 years. Recently when I’ve been in the car with here she’s forgotten which roads to take and missed turnings. The other day she asked me where we were going.”


6. Problems with visual and spatial relationships

If your elderly loved one is failing to recognise themselves in the mirror, this could indicate that a cognitive condition such as Alzheimer’s has affected the part of the brain that controls spatial awareness.

Other visual problems to be aware of are hallucinations – when your loved one begins to see things that aren’t there, and difficulty in understanding the things they’re looking at, such as struggling to recognise items are around their home.

Those with Alzheimer’s may also be unable to judge braking distances when driving too, making them a hazard on the roads. This is another indication that elderly care provisions need to be put into place for your loved one’s safety.

Example – “Dad can’t walk in a straight line, and seems very unsteady.”


7. Difficulties with words and language

It’s not uncommon to lose the thread of a conversation, especially for those with hearing or communication problems. However, when it occurs frequently, this can be a sign of something more serious. Those with Alzheimer’s tend to repeat themselves and have trouble joining in with conversations, as they lose their train of thought more easily.

Example – “When I talk to mum you can see in her eyes that she’s finding it difficult to understand what I’m saying. Sometimes her replies don’t make sense.” 


8. Mislaying personal items

Someone with Alzheimer’s is likely to put familiar objects in completely unfamiliar places – a common example is leaving house keys in the fridge or oven. Moreover, Alzheimer’s can create the sense of suspicion, and often those living with the condition will accuse others of stealing their belongings if they can’t find them. This tendency increases over time and is a symptom that those experienced in dementia care are only too familiar with.

Example – “Mum thought her next door neighbour was coming into the garden and stealing her laundry.” 


9. Changes in personality

Depression and worries about ageing can be common, but for those with Alzheimer’s, personality changes are much more severe. Many people with dementia become irritable and anxious as the disease progresses, often with bouts of depression and aggression, sometimes accompanied by hallucinations or delusions.

When combined with disrupted sleep patterns, and a loss of inhibitions, people with dementia can display challenging behaviours, which family members can find upsetting and may struggle to deal with. This is where a dedicated care at home package can be helpful, providing the individual with a calm and supportive caregiver who looks out for them 24/7.

Example – ” My Grandad is becoming quite selfish. Every conversation is me, me, me, and he doesn’t engage with or show empathy for anyone in the family.” 


10. Poor judgement

We can all exercise poor judgement at times, but for those with Alzheimer’s, this can occur on a regular basis. Many elderly people with dementia fall prey to door-to-door sales schemes, and telemarketers, often buying endless products that they have no need for, which can quickly deplete their savings.

Personal hygiene may deteriorate as the person with dementia forgets to bathe regularly, which is another indication that in-home help may be needed. A lack of good judgement can compromise your loved one’s safety, as they will be unable to complete simple tasks, such as preparing a meal without the risk of harming themselves.

Example – “I didn’t think Dad had showered for a few weeks. When I asked him about it and he said he didn’t need to as he doesn’t get dirty.”


11. Avoiding social interaction

Many elderly people suffer from loneliness, and avoiding social interactions can be symptom of low self-esteem or depression, stemming from feelings of isolation.

Frequent deliberate attempts to avoid social interaction can be a symptom of dementia too. Many people with dementia lose interest in former hobbies and pastimes as the ability to focus on a task for any length of time decreases. They may no longer engage in activities and sports that they used to enjoy and may end up actively avoiding social engagements, due to their inability to follow conversations.

It’s important to remember that all of the above can be symptoms of depression too, so this is something to consider when seeking support from a health professional.

Example – “Dad sits all day in his room doing nothing – no TV or radio.” 

Coming to terms with dementia

From dealing with a diagnosis and understanding the implications to getting advice on how to live well with the condition, our extensive resources will help guide you through what can be a tough and emotional moment. 


This article is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice. For medical advice, always consult your GP.

Learn more about dementia care

Take a look at more Elder guides on living with and caring for dementia. 

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