What is Alzheimer’s Disease? What are the Symptoms?

October 22, 2018

Cara Leahy, DO, Director of Vascular Neurology
Institute for Neurosciences and Multiple Sclerosis


Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Scientists believe that for most people, this disease is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that affect the brain over time.

It’s important to note that just because you forgot where you put your keys doesn’t mean you are developing dementia. Most people have an occasional memory lapse, which may increase with age.

The memory problems that characterize warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease are usually more frequent, and they begin to interfere with safe daily functioning like forgetting to turn off the stove or driving unsafely.  The disease may also involve a decline in other abilities such as planning a schedule, following multistep directions, or cooking a meal. It can also involve mood changes, social withdrawal, and feelings of confusion.

In the mild stage, most people are able to function independently but may require assistance with some activities. In the moderate stage, which for some individuals is the longest, they may have difficulty performing routine tasks and may be confused about where they are and begin wandering.  Personality and behavioral changes may also occur. In the severe stage, individuals will require help with basic activities such as bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom.

The majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are 65 and older; however, Alzheimer’s disease is not just a disease of old age.  Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early onset Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association of Michigan, there are currently 180,000 people in Michigan who are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and over 514,000 family and friends providing care.

There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. Physicians use a variety of tools to help make a diagnosis including obtaining a medical and family history, talking with family members to give input into changes in their loved one, conducting cognitive tests and physical and neurologic exams, blood tests, and brain imaging. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease requires a careful and comprehensive medical evaluation.

The American Alzheimer’s Association encourages families to learn about the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and offers 10 warning signs. Should any of these symptoms appear, it is important to speak with a medical professional.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. Word finding difficulties
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

Current Alzheimer’s disease medications and management strategies may temporarily improve symptoms. This can sometimes help people with Alzheimer’s disease maximize function and maintain independence for a little while longer; but because there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to seek supportive services and tap into your support network as early as possible.

Studies are showing that many of the same factors that increase your risk of heart disease can also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Important factors that may be involved include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, excess weight and diabetes. Keeping active — physically, mentally and socially — may make your life more enjoyable and may also help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the Memorial Healthcare Institute for Neurosciences and Multiple Sclerosis, we are passionate about delivering the very best care possible and take the time to understand each patient’s unique diagnosis and needs. As a board certified neurologist, I specialize in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and memory care. I work extensively with a variety of disciplines to provide a comprehensive approach to memory disorders. For more information visit MemorialHealthcare.org or contact the Institute at (989) 723-1390.

Memorial Healthcare is also pleased to offer a free Alzheimer’s disease support group for family members and caregivers on the 4th Wednesday of every month from 6 pm to 8 pm in the lower level of Memorial Healthcare’s auditorium located at 826 W. King Street, Owosso.  For more information, please contact (989) 729-4516.