Many of us know the classic signs of Alzheimer’s disease like losing things, forgetting how to conduct simple tasks like boiling water or making a phone call, and losing the ability to recognize loved ones. However, there are four early signs of Alzheimer’s disease that may surprise you. They can be subtle, but if you spend time with your loved one and you are aware of these signs, you will recognize them as they slowly emerge. Then you can seek early diagnosis and support for your loved one. Here are the four surprising early signs of Alzheimer’s:
1. Apathy: Your loved one may start to withdraw socially and that is one of the most common early signs of Alzheimer’s. He or she may act as though they are disinterested in social activities or family gatherings. Those who were very social may start to resist participating in activities that previously made them happy; going to lunch with friends, going to a matinee, or spending time with grandchildren. As your loved one begins to realize that it is difficult to process information and conversations, he or she will naturally seek to limit interactions. The disease may also make your loved one feel indifferent to social activities. You can help by restricting gatherings to a small number of people. Avoid noisy parties and instead, keep them small and familiar. If you find that even small gatherings agitate your loved one, visit by yourself or with one other person. It is important to maintain personal interaction in a way that is comfortable for your loved one.
2. Changes in personal appearance: If you see that your loved one is not paying attention to personal hygiene or his or her appearance, it may be a sign of early Alzheimer’s. The apathy that we mentioned regarding social interaction may also be a factor in whether or not a person wants to get dressed or comb his or her hair. If you notice that your loved one hasn’t showered or taken a bath in days, hasn’t changed clothing or has stopped going to the hairdresser or barber, it may be a sign of early Alzheimer’s disease. You can help. As part of dementia caregiving, it will require that you visit your loved one to assist with personal hygiene and grooming, or you can hire a skilled at-home caregiver to help with those tasks. You can’t tell your loved one that he or she needs to pay attention to personal hygiene because the disease will prevent them from understanding, or remember the admonition.
3. The onset of anxiety and depression: As your loved one’s memory and ability to process new environments decline, anxiety may increase. If your loved one can’t remember where he or she is going or what the family is going to do next it can lead to higher anxiety levels. Anxiety is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease as it robs the person’s ability to process the surrounding environment.
There is also a clinical link between Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Researchers aren’t completely clear on whether depression is a cause of Alzheimer’s disease or a reaction to it. Regardless, the fact is that if your loved one appears to become increasingly depressed and anxious it is worth visiting his or her primary care physician. Medication may help to alleviate some of the anxiety and depression and help your loved one to feel better.
4. Changes in vision: Your loved one may perceive that something is wrong with his or her vision when in fact it hasn’t changed. It is not the eye that is changing, it is the brain’s ability to process vision. The part of the brain that processes the images we see may deteriorate faster than other parts, leading the person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease to believe that his or her eyesight is changing.
All of these changes are extremely frustrating for your loved one. You can help by reassuring him or her that you will navigate this territory together and that you will always find the dementia caregiving help and support that they need. We’ve also written pieces on the early signs of dementia that could help process aging life challenges with your loved one.