Be on the Lookout for These 12 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
Are you getting concerned about your elderly parent’s forgetfulness? Does something seem off with their behavior? Recognizing the early signs of Alzheimer’s or other dementia can be tough. It’s hard to know if what you’re seeing is dementia or if it’s just normal aging.
Early Signs of Dementia
Looking back, I know now my mom’s first signs of Alzheimer’s started about six years ago. It was little things at first like asking a question she had just asked or misplacing something she used often. These things didn’t seem like cause for concern at the time, but gradually the “senior moments” came more often, and I began wondering if these were the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s.
I found sites on dementia and Alzheimer’s and studied the info. I saw stuff like:
A common sign of Alzheimer’s is asking for the same information repeatedly, but a typical age-related change is sometimes forgetting things but remembering them later.
These types of descriptions left me frustrated. I mean, how many times does she have to ask for it to qualify as “repeatedly”? And within what time frame? And what if she repeatedly asks something one day, but then doesn’t do it again for the next 2 weeks?
I found it tough to distinguish the so-called “typical age-related changes” from signs I should be concerned about until her symptoms worsened, because most of the time, she seemed perfectly fine.
But now I can see the little things that were early signs of Alzheimer’s in my mom’s case because they all got worse. A lot worse.
Mom’s first signs of Alzheimer’s
Below I share 12 specific things my mom did that I know now were the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s for her. At first, these things did not happen every day. Just one here, one there.
1. Asking “What’s today?” – It started something like this,
Mom: What is today?
Me: It’s Tuesday, Mom.
Two hours later…
Mom: What day is it? Did I already ask you that?
Me: Yes, you did. And it’s still Tuesday.
Then, no issues with this for days, or even a week. And then, it pops up again. Currently, Mom, who is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, asks me what day it is multiple times every day often within a minute of the last time she asked.
2. Forgetting medication refills or forgetting to take medication altogether – My mom’s medication was a mess by the time I realized she couldn’t handle it anymore. She did a great job covering for quite some time because she didn’t want anyone to know she was having a hard time keeping it organized. Today I keep all of my mom’s meds and give her each dose. She doesn’t even know what she takes anymore.
3. Repeatedly buying unneeded items at the grocery store – My mom bought frozen concentrated orange juice every time she went to the store for months. The freezer was literally full of it. I remember finding all the orange juice and thinking it was funny. At the time, I didn’t realize it was a symptom of a much bigger problem. Today Mom can’t look in the kitchen and process what we need from the store. She does still try to make a shopping list, but it may or may not have things on it we actually need.
4. Asking me to help write checks for bills – At first, she blamed this on needing new glasses. But after she got new glasses, she still couldn’t seem to look at a bill and then write a check for the correct amount. Mom doesn’t pay bills or write checks at all anymore.
5. Uncharacteristic change in the thoroughness of her housekeeping – Initially, I noticed dust. Then I noticed the floors and refrigerator needed attention. And then soon she started leaving food out on the counter and letting the trash overflow. All of this was really out of character for her. She had always kept her house really clean. Today she rarely notices that something needs cleaning or to be put away.
6. Misplacing things she used frequently – This was a hard one to attribute to Alzheimer’s at first because we all misplace stuff sometimes, right? The red flag went up on this when Mom started insisting someone else had moved or stolen the missing item. We currently play “What’s Missing” on a daily basis. Mom now believes all of her misplaced things were taken by me, my kids, the housekeeper, or random unknown people who come into her room when she’s not in it. I seriously can’t even guess how many hours a week I spend looking for stuff for her. Because the stuff she loses is rarely somewhere logical. It’s like she’s hiding it.
7. Trouble following the plot or remembering the characters on a television show – This started with Mom asking, “Who is that?” each time the scene on a show changed. It was also apparent early on that she was confused about what was happening in the storyline. She would even get familiar characters confused between shows. For example, she once thought Meredith Grey and Richard Webber were running from zombies in the Walking Dead. Today, Mom has the TV on all the time but doesn’t really watch anything.
8. Asking how much tip to leave at a restaurant – My mom was a bookkeeper, and before Alzheimer’s, it was effortless for her to calculate 20% of a number in her head. Having trouble with this was another thing Mom initially blamed on needing new glasses. Mom can no longer check out while shopping without assistance, and she struggles to count cash.
9. Misremembering events or stories – I noticed this for the first time when she didn’t remember visiting her sister who we had just visited the day before. After I told Mom we had just seen her sister I could see this blank look on her face. I reminded her where we had all eaten lunch and what we had talked about. She looked at me blankly and said she remembered. But I could tell she wasn’t sure. A few months later I noticed she would take a story about something that happened to someone else and retell the story as if happened to her. These symptoms have progressed to the point of her taking bits and pieces of information from multiple events, along with a good dose of complete fiction, and creating new events that she is positive happened. And in my mom’s case, these fictitious events are rarely positive. They are almost always something negative she thinks someone has done to her.
10. Being uncharacteristically mean, just for a moment – First with my kids. Then with me. Sadly the mean stuff has gotten worse as my mom’s Alzheimer’s has progressed. When she gets angry about something, she doesn’t hold back and lets the hurtful words fly.
11. Tripping and falling – Mom initially blamed this on her shoes or even the floor. We were lucky that Mom never really got hurt in any of her early falls. We got her a walker, and she’s still doing pretty well getting around as long as she uses it.
12. Getting confused about where things are in a familiar store – On one of our many shopping trips to Target, suddenly Mom couldn’t find the bathroom. This happened after I was already pretty concerned about her memory issues and was one of those “Houston, we have a problem” moments for me. She had been in that Target and to that bathroom a couple of times a week for years. I left the store that day and called my sister in a panic. Because who forgets where the bathroom is at Target? But the rest of that day and the days that followed she seemed okay. And the next time we went to Target, she found the bathroom just fine. I didn’t see her confused again in a store for quite some time. Alzheimer’s is sneaky that way. Now, leaving Mom alone in a store isn’t an option. I can’t let her out of my sight.
Talk to Your Aging Parents About Dementia
If you’re wondering if things you see in your loved one could be Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia I have some advice for you as someone who has been in your shoes. Have a conversation with them now. Don’t wait until you are “sure” because that’s likely not going to be until things have progressed quite a bit. It gets much more challenging to have the hard conversations once your loved one has lost significant function and you have already had to take over managing portions of their finances, medical care, and daily living activities. I wish I had talked with Mom early on. I wish we had discussed Alzheimer’s and her wishes before she was dealing with the daily confusion and frustration that comes with dementia.
There are many important topics, in addition to dementia, everyone should discuss with their aging parents. So if you’re finding it tough to bring up your concerns specifically about your suspicions regarding their memory or behaviors, lump that topic into a more general discussion on planning for the future. Eldercare Locator has created a fantastic “Face the Facts” resource. It even includes suggestions on ways to approach the conversation.
Here’s the link: Face the Facts
If you haven’t talked to your parents about this stuff yet, this is a great resource to get you started.
This article is spot on! In retrospect, Mom went through EVERY. ONE. OF. THESE.! She ended up being diagnosed with Vascular Dementia, although the onset of symptoms was the exact same as Alzheimers.
Thanks so much for your comment! So interesting that vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s start with the same types of symptoms. Your comment prompted me to look more closely at vascular dementia. Thank you!
The first time I noticed a change i n my mother was when she was in hospital as a result of a kidney infection 3years ago. One evening in hispital she started using random words that made no sense. Her tone was argumentative- so untypical- the doctor said it was a delerium but wasn’t sure how well she would recover. Once home she recovered but then needed extra help. She now remembers no one although living with me – has no concept or night or day – thinks people on the TV speak to her – but can be reassured and can enjoy moments thankfully
Thank you so much for sharing. I have had other readers message me of a significant decline in their loved one after an illness. This possibility is definitely something people caring for their aging parents need to be aware of.
From what I’ve read you both are correct. It has something to do with anesthesia and age. I thought my mom had post-anesthesia negative side effects, but it wound up being Parkinson’s plus cognitive impairment/early dementia. This article was helpful, thank you.
Your article was spot-on! My mother has had every single warning sign. Learning about what to expect has taken a couple of years, but I now have a sense of what to expect and tell my friends with parents who are reaching the same age, what to look out for. I wish I’d known this when there was time to deal with it when my father was alive; it would have been easier to make plans then instead of trying to deal with it after his death. It’s been a long, tough road.
Looking back, the first signs were over 10 years ago when my husband was traveling for work. He left behind 3 different winter coats in airports. Then 9 years ago, when he retired, he spent hours and hours on the computer, first reading news, then political campaigns and donating money. Lots of Money, then getting involved with Publishers Clearing House online. He bought stuff that I returned. He insisted I dress up because the Prize Van was coming, and another time we couldn’t go anywhere because they were coming. Over and over. He was often short tempered and angry, slamming his hand down or just walking out of a room filled with family.
When he committed $30,000 to political campaigns I called our PCP and the testing process began.
He’s now lost somewhere in late middle stage.
My mom used to spend so much time on the computer, too. It was like she was addicted to it. She signed up for everything and bought the craziest stuff. 🤦♀️ We spent hours canceling subscriptions and trying to get her refunds. We were so worried about the amount of personal information she was giving out that we eventually had to take the internet away. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!
We experienced many of these same incidents above along with a few others. Add forgetting how to change the channel on the remote, or dialing her remote as if it was her phone, and holding it up to her ear waiting for it to ring, then tell me to call the phone company as her phone was broken. The microwave suddenly confounded her. She would stand in front of it warm her coffee for 1 second at a time over and over. She became conniving, and vain, and would actually make up stories and gossip about family members that was not even remotely true and share this info over and over to neighbors, and insert herself as some type heroine. She could barely navigate with a walker, but insisted on moving large paving stones from a retainment wall from her backyard and oddly placing them elsewhere, ultimately collapsing the wall in places, but couldn’t carry a cup of liquid without spilling it everywhere. The comparison always confound us, and when we asked her moved the stones, she denied knowing anything about it. We finally caught it on camera to show her health specialist. Things continued to not add up and over a 6 month period, her character changed dramatically. We caught her inviting total strangers (who rang her doorbell) into her living room room, and she would tell them neighborhood gossip, and invite them to return. She was 95 and her safety became a real factor and concern. When she was younger, she hated gossip, and it was so out of character, but she seemed to have absolutely no filter for any topic. She would often place herself into events in the news or some event and was insistent that she was there. She started storing her pots/pans inside the oven instead of the normal cabinet, then forgot they were there and turn on the oven, damaging the handles of the pans. You are spot on about cleaning, trash, & hygiene type chores. We found used pull-ups in her tub, shower, and in a lower bathroom cabinet along with the ants that it brought in. After these last few events, we knew she could no longer be alone for any reason, and needed 24/7 nursing home care. I would NOT wish this disease on anyone, as over time, it destroys the person we knew, and takes a toll on the family caregivers in so many ways, only those who experience it understand. I don’t know about others, but I feel I’ve aged 20 years in three.
Yes, I agree. This experience has aged me like no other. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
Hi, I received you request to share the first signs of My husbands dementia. He is 62 years old and he has vascular dementia, and it happened just like that one day. He had his first stroke in 2008, he was 51 years old that left him paralyzed on his left side but his brain was good. He has had a lot of health issues since including 4 mini-strokes and a total of three strokes. The third one May 3rd 2017, he just all of a sudden was crazy, I had know idea you could get dementia with a stroke, I didn’t even know he had another stroke until I figured I better get him to the hospital and quick. No one, not one doctor told me the stroke had caused him to go straight to the end stages of dementia. I kept asking the doctor to get him a pysch. appointment because he is crazy. Then one day a nurse from another doctor said,” you know he has dementia”! I said no I didn’t but I looked it up and there he was in black and white. When I mentioned it to his primary, “she said yes, I know that.” Huhhhh It was a shock and a relief, atleast now I know why he is doing things that People would consider crazy. He not crazy he sick. So, there was no warning signs for us but, it’s a good thing to get the word out, That strokes can cause Vascular Dementia.
I’m so sorry for your situation, but thank you so much for sharing it! Spreading awareness of the different types of dementia is so important. Thank you!!
my mum wrote the wrote her sister in laws name on a card instead of her niece who had just had a baby.
I also noticed that she was getting stories off the news mixed up when she was talking about them in a conversation with others.
Thanks so much for sharing! I saw the mixed up stories with my mom, too. I wasn’t too concerned at first, and wrote them off as “senior moments”. 😞
Not sure if this is what you are talking about but one of my mum’s symptoms of dementia was losing certain inhibitions. We would be in the shopping centre and if someone passed by with clothes she didn’t like (designer torn jeans) or if they had unusually large bottoms or whatever, she would say in normal tones “look at their clothes, I wouldn’t pick them up from the gutters, all torn!” Or “look at that bottom….you could ride on it!!” Very embarrassing but she didn’t realise or comprehend why any more. She would simply say what she thought without thinking about others’ feelings. She’s now in last stages. I love her so much
Yes! This is exactly what I’m talking about. And my mom went through a stage where she did exactly what you describe! Thanks so much for sharing! ❤️
Very early on, my Mom talked to her doctors about possibly having dementia/alzheimer’s. Her doctors blew her off and told her she was fine and that everything she was experiencing was normal for her age. She told us about that a long time before we had any suspicions at all. The information she shared with her doctors would be beneficial for all of us to know now. I truly wish that doctors would take seniors seriously. Who knows how much more time we would have had with her if she could have started medications earlier. (My mom is still alive, but we only get to see polka-dots of her former self now.)
It is definitely easier to look back and spot the glaring signs of alzheimer’s after the fact. My mother had 5 kids, so when she would repeat stories, we all chalked it up to her forgetting which kid she had already told the story to. It wasn’t until we were all 5 in the room together, a rare occurence as we are all living in different states, that we knew something was going on.
Looking back, my mother started picking on my father incessantly. She didn’t care who was around and she just kept at it. My father put up with it, but now I think he knew that she was having problems and it was easier to put up with it than to face the truth of her illness. She was definitely very mean.
My parents came to visit and we were invited to dinner at a friends house. The friend made a salad, but left the individual toppings decoratively across the top of the salad. Usually, the first person would mix the salad prior to serving. My mom took all of the avocado and passed the salad. She then bragged throughout the dinner what a wonderful avocado salad it was. I was so embarassed. This was very out of character for my Mom. Now I realize that she had no idea what she was supposed to do with the salad.
As things progressed, my mother developed many of the signs mentioned by others, losing things and accusing others of stealing, trouble with the calendar/time, repetitive stories, meanness, etc.. As far as having a conversation with her about her dementia, by the time we became aware that she had a problem, she was totally in denial about having an issue, afterall her doctor said she was fine. She became irate and stopped talking to anyone that suggested she had memory issues.
Interesting that your mom suspected dementia before you noticed anything unusual. And you are right, the info she shared with her doctors at that point could be incredibly helpful. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
We were at a funeral and I gave my mom a cookie that my friend had made. She asked me 3 times in the space of 5 minutes who made it, although the friend was standing right there. That’s when I knew. She is now somewhere in the middle stage and doesn’t recognize that friend of nearly thirty years. She also isn’t sure who my son is or my granddaughter but she fakes it. It must be so confusing for her. Sometimes it breaks my heart and other times it makes us laugh. We were planning a party with friends and everyone was going to bring food from a different culture. She kept insisting she would bring Japanese. Mind you she’s never cooked anything Japanese in her life and she no longer cooks. When we got home she said, “Well that was interesting! Why did I say I would bring Japanese?!” We both burst out laughing. So it’s not all bad.
Hi Ria, Thanks so much for sharing your story. You are right. There are times that my mom and have a good laugh about something she’s said or done. Those moments are precious as I get to see a glimpse of the old her before Alzheimer’s. Anne
Thank you for sharing and writing this article. An eye opener for the people that are starting on this journey, but I been on it for sometime and didn’t recognize what was happening to my mom, just knew that she was forgetful, argumentative, crying, being lonely and then at the end aggressive with everyone. You are describing my mom to a T. I was so overwhelmed with her odd behavior, misplaced items, caring for her and helping her with finances, trying to get her the help with housework since we all work . She would refuse having someone there for a couple of hours until she didn’t know anymore and then didn’t want to be left alone. I have read everyone’s comments and it’s mom in every story. She has had so many falls and injuries but has been blessed with no broken bones. She’s mobile and is quick on her feet but her safety and being taken care 24/7 was our main concern so she is now at a nursing home that has an Alzheimer’s/Dementia unit. Heart breaking but necessary for our loved one. Thank you 🙏🏼❤️ Ludivina
Hi Ludivina, You are welcome. Sending you ❤️. Anne
My husband is 67. I believe he is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer. I first notice a couple of years ago we had the family over for a holiday meal and he went to say the blessing and forgot all the words, now mind you he has said the same blessing for50 years it was so obvious that my 13 year old grandson picked up on it immediately. And frequently he will ask someone else to say the blessing when he is unsure of himself. I think I am the only that notices. I have been relaying about of incidents to my children so they can be aware of things. But if I mention it to him he gets angry. Along road ahead of us.
Hi K., You are correct. It’s those who are closest to the individual with early dementia that notice it first. Hoping your husband’s decline is very, very slow. Anne
My 💜 sincerely goes out to everyone. Looking back I think is the absolute hardest part for me. I wish that I would have known years back what I know now. I think my Father has had Dementia for year’s but he was good up until recently at hiding it. Unfortunately it took a car accident, a fall and a hospital stay to really fully understand the severity at which he currently is. Prayer’s to you all! 🙏
I am 60 and took care of my mother (who had dementia)at my home until she had a bad fall and upon release from hospital she went to a care facility. I visited on certain days to take her to activities. It was very hard to see her this way but I don’t regret one moment and feel peace when I think of her now.
I now have early dementia and I have a wonderful husband who is here for me. There are medications that help that my mom didn’t have and my life is full and I have time to enjoy my life. I only pray for all those with this disease to feel cared for and not scared and alone.
Feeling secure and having loved ones active in in their lives is extremely important. Make happy memories now
These are on point.
Suggestion. Before your parent(s) get too far along with dementia, get a medical Power of Attorney and a limited Financial Power of Attorney. You can also arrange for a Transfer on Death for a vehicle or house that will take precedence over a will, or if no will, over probate.
Discuss this before fear and frustration set in.
You will have to be your parent’s advocate in the hospital. I was horrified with a very young resident in the ER last year. My mom had a serious allergic reaction to a medication the Dr gave her. The resident came in and started asking my mom questions about being revived. Not only was my mom in no shape to answer questions, but her memory was worse at that moment because she was on multiple medications and was out of it. I if course said there was no way mom could answer coherently, and that my medical Power of Attorney took precedence over mom attempting to answer at that particular moment.
So, if a Dr. is not familiar with your family member, or not experienced with an elderly patient with dementia, STEP IN!!!!!
Don’t assume a Dr magically knows all. They don’t.
My cousin waited too long to get paperwork done for my Aunt. It’s been an unbelievable mess.
If your parents are afraid of signing any kind of power of attorney, get a third party they trust to explain the paperwork to them.
Too many people think it means that it signs away rights to control over all finances, and it doesn’t. They can choose what the limits are.
Make sure you’re a signer on their bank account as well. If they pass away without a will, that account is frozen for probate, which is a mess.
Good luck. This is all incredibly stressful, but necessary.
Thanks for this article and for your comments. I have dementia, a mild one, that isn’t supposed to progress and I recognize myself in most of your observations. I’ve been in memory care, and I can tell you that even when your loved one can’t tell you, your love and patience makes a difference. You’re also right about needing to make plans while your loved one can participate. Always remember, we’re still in there even when we can’t show you and we’re happier when you show your love!
I’ve read the article and the comments and found them informative. In my case, which involved my Dad, things were quite different. Dad was in the hospital for carotid artery surgery. He had been on a certain heart medication for years, and following the surgery, a hospitalist changed that medication. Mom and I noticed a drastic change in his behavior and told the nurses and doctors how unlike him the behavior was. He was angry, didn’t seem to know where he was, and combative with everyone except me. We were told that it was the result of anesthesia and his age. So he was sent home a completely different person than when he arrived at the hospital, and for six months continued this awful behavior. At a subsequent doctor’s appointment, we were told to bring him to a clinic that specialized in dementia for testing. When we saw the doctors for the results of the tests, Mom and I were told that he had “dementia of the Alziemer’s type” and we should start looking for a facility that specializes in dementia for him.
We were heartbroken. I asked several times if the change in his medication could be the problem. One of the doctors told me to “wake up and smell the coffee”, that my Dad was in the late stages of dementia!
A few weeks after this occurred, I took Dad to his cardiologist for a routine visit. While there, I told him that Dad was vomiting after breakfast every day for the last week. He said to cut the medication in half and let him know how Dad was responding. After two days, Dad was so much better. He was calmer, remembering things, and much more his normal self. I reported it to the doctor who changed his medication back to the one he had been on before the surgery. Within a week my Dad was completely back to his old self. For six months, my Mom and I lived a nightmare that could have been prevented!
I write this story not to give anyone false hope, but to make everyone aware of how much medication can affect the body, especially in the elderly. Be sure to check the side effects of any medication given to an elderly person. After this event, I am so much more aware of what medication can do to one’s body. If my story helps one family not to go through what mine did, it was worth telling.
I’ve seen this happen twice now: once with my mom (Alzheimer’s) and once with a good friend (Lewy Body Dementia). They both would say things were really “scary.” Normal things, like the way someone treated them, or how much mail they were getting, or the fact that something didn’t work like it used to. Essentially, things that really weren’t scary at all.
My prayers are with all of you! I do not regret the past 5 years my brother and I took caring for our sweet little mom. He took early retirement, selling his half of his business and I abruptly changed my life to care for her 24 hours a day. She became my purpose each day and although some days were challenging, I kept a joyful, positive attitude to engage her. She was happy, laughing at my goofy dances and funny hats and playing music all day. She yodeled beautifully but in her decline and weakened voice, she attempted and we told her she was beautiful. She’s an angel in heaven now just as she was here….her whole life. Taking care of her….we would do it all over again.
Somehow we don’t think about the emotional or physical toll it was for us, but the privilege of taking care of our beautiful Mom. She’s been with God and our dad for 6 weeks now and yes, we all miss her. All through our lives, we told her what a special, strong and wonderful woman, mom, grandmom, great grandmom and great great grandmom she was. She knew that she was very loved. Although she was not conscience the last few days, she squeezed our hands when we told her how much we appreciated and loved her, it was ok to go….be with God and Daddy. So sorry this is long, thank you.
This is a good post. My father’s dementia was so subtle at first that I put it down to him being in his 90’s. Many of the things you mention are so familiar to me especially the part about pills. My Dad started wrapping his pills in tissue paper and hiding them in his room. When I asked why he was doing it he said he didn’t but I was the one.
His night wandering became very difficult. I had to have an alarm on our door to wake me in case he went outside.
I think this is one of the warning signs to add to the list; the inability to distinguish between day and night is very much a dementia sign.
Thank you for posting. And to those who are caring for their parents with dementia; try to squeeze in some time for yourself. This becomes a 24/7 job as a caregiver. You will burn out the further into it you get.
You are hero’s, all of you.