Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease vary greatly from person to person, but it is possible to distinguish a few general symptoms that are closely related to the various stages of the disease.
During this period, usually the first two to four years, symptoms are slow and gradual and can be mistaken for the normal ageing process.
- This period is characterised by early signs of memory loss, which may include forgetting names or events
- Disorientation and difficulty following directions
- Changes in normal behaviour and personality
- Inability to perform routine tasks.
In this stage, people may suddenly:
- lose their inhibitions
- no longer be able to solve simple problems
- experience difficulty with figures.
Adapting to simple changes becomes a problem. The afflicted may become confused and disoriented, not know what month or year it is, be unable to accurately describe or correctly recall the name of a place recently visited.
Emotionally, Alzheimer sufferers become increasingly suspicious and paranoid. They can no longer control their anger, frustration or inappropriate behaviour and become increasingly quarrelsome, irritable and agitated.
They can also no longer dress appropriately and neglect their personal appearance.
Severe impairment of intellectual abilities is typical in the final stage of the disease.
Physical functioning deteriorates and sufferers become incontinent (unable to control bowel and bladder function).
They are erratic, inattentive and appear uncooperative. They can no longer engage in conversation.
They are often not able to feed themselves and have to be fed. They become incapable of looking after themselves and grow to bedridden or wheelchair-bound.
Death is usually the result of pneumonia or another illness that occurs when health has deteriorated severely.
(Updated and reviewed by Dr Michael S. Mason, MB ChB, FC Psych (South Africa), Consultant Psychiatrist in private practice, Panorama Psychiatry and Memory Clinic, Cape Town March 2015.)
(Previously reviewed by Dr Frans Hugo, MBChB, M.Med Psychiatry)