The main symptom of Alzheimer's disease is memory loss. Initially, the patient experiences increased forgetfulness, such as forgetting recent conversations or events. This can also be part of the normal ageing process, but in the case of Alzheimer's disease, memory impairment progressively worsens, and other symptoms might develop.
It’s often a family member or friend who first notices a patient’s early issues with forgetfulness, memory loss and thinking skills. These progressive memory difficulties, and the onset of problems with concentrating, abstract thinking and multitasking, slowly start to negatively interfere with functioning in their daily lives.
As the condition advances, patients experience a progressive decline in memory and thinking skills, and at later stages of the disease patients require assistance with everyday tasks, such as eating, bathing, movement, and personal care. Skills such as reading or listening to books, listening to music, telling stories, and reminiscing and singing, may be retained for longer. Patients often experience behavioural and psychiatric problems, such as depression, social withdrawal, mood swings, problems with sleep, and loss of social inhibitions.
In advanced stages of the disease, patients are at increased risk of infections and conditions such as dehydration and malnutrition because of severe loss of brain function.
The diagnostic process begins with a neurological examination. The neurologist usually refers the patient for blood tests, MRI brain imaging, memory and cognitive assessment, and sometimes an amyloid PET scan for confirmation of the diagnosis.
There is not currently a cure for Alzheimer's disease, but a neurologist can offer medications to temporarily help with worsening memory problems and treat associated issues, such as depression and sleep difficulties.