Memory Loss

Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later.

What's normal?

Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.


Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks

People with dementia often find it hard to plan or complete everyday tasks. Individuals may lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, placing a telephone call or playing a game.

What's normal?

When you occasionally forget why you came into a room or what you planned to say.


When does an ordinary memory lapse indicate something more serious, like early Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia?


Problems with Language

People with Alzheimer’s disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead, ask for “the thing for my mouth.”

What's normal?

Forgetting names or appointments occasionally.


Disorientation to Time and Place

People with Alzheimer’s disease can become lost in their own neighborhood, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get home.

What's normal?

Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going.


Mental impairment during the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s often clearly precludes driving or other complex tasks.


Poor or Decreased Judgement

Those with Alzheimer’s may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment, like giving away large sums of money to telemarketers.

What's normal?

Making a questionable or debatable decision from time to time.

Turning in the Car Keys:
A Difficult Time for those with Dementia

Those with declining mental abilities may think their driving is fine and not worry about it, while those who care for them may feel just the opposite.


Problems with Abstract Thinking

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may have unusual difficulty performing complex mental tasks, like forgetting what numbers are for and how they should be used.

What's normal?

Finding it challenging to balance a checkbook.


Misplacing Things

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

What's normal?

Misplacing keys or wallet temporarily.



Change in Mood or Behavior

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease may show rapid mood swings—from calm to tears to anger—for no apparent reason.

What's normal?

Occasionally feeling sad or moody.



Changes in Personality

The personalities of people with dementia can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member.

What's normal?

People’s personalities do change somewhat with age.


Loss of Initiative

A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities.

What's normal?

Sometimes feeling weary of work or social obligations.



Every person with Alzheimer’s experiences the disease differently, but people tend to experience a similar trajectory from the beginning of the illness to its end. New York University’s Dr. Barry Reisberg outlines the seven major clinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

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