Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Spotting the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Forgetfulness is a normal part of aging. Whether it’s misplacing the house keys or not remembering the name of your next door neighbor, memory loss is not uncommon for older adults.

Still, there are differences between typical memory loss and early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few guidelines that can help you tell the difference between the two.

The National Institutes on Aging   (NIA), reveals some of the early signs of Alzheimer’s include:

  • Finding it hard to remember things
  • Asking the same questions over and over
  • Having trouble with simple math problems or paying bills
  • Getting lost
  • Losing items or putting them in odd places

While the above can happen to most people now and then, you should see a doctor if anything in this list is happening often.

What to Expect from the Doctor

A checkup for memory loss covers several areas. Your doctor may:

  • Take a complete medical history and ask about the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • Ask you and your family questions about how you’re doing on everyday things like paying bills, shopping or driving
  • Test your memory, problem-solving, language and counting skills
  • Collect blood and urine and request other medical tests
  • Order brain scans to rule out other possible causes

As there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, doctors may focus on managing the disease through medications, mental and physical activities, even support groups.

Differences Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Normal Aging


Normal aging

Often makes poor decisions

Makes poor decisions once in a while

Difficulty handling monthly bills

Occasionally forgets a payment

Loses track of the day or time of year

Forgets which day it is, but remembers later

Trouble holding a conversation

Sometimes forgets which word to use

Frequently loses items or puts them in odd locations

Loses items from time to time

A Few Tips to Improve Memory

If you’re having trouble with your memory, consider trying some – or all – of the following activities:

  • Take a daily walk. You’ve heard it before, but physical activity is one of the best paths to overall health. Aim for 30 minutes a day. Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain.
  • Get social. Yes, Facebook    is a wonderful way to stay in touch with people, but remember to go out in the world and get together with others.
  • Acquire a new skill or hobby. Tackle a Sudoku or crossword puzzle, go dancing or join a book club.
  • Reduce stress. Of course, that can be easier said than done but the fact is stress produces a hormone called cortisol, which has been linked to short-term memory loss in older adults.
Memory Loss: It’s Not Always Alzheimer’s

Problems with memory can have a variety of causes. Medication side effects, vitamin B12 deficiency, tumors, infections and blood clots in the brain are just some of the culprits. If you are concerned about memory loss, reach out to your doctor. And if you haven’t had your annual wellness exam, that may be a good place to start.

Source: Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias  National Institute on Aging, 2021.
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Originally published 1/16/2017; Revised 2019, 2021