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How Do I Know If It's Alzheimer's?

Written by Dana Larsen
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated April 19, 2023

Has your loved one been losing things, having trouble remembering words and phrases, or experiencing difficulty navigating familiar places? To an extent, memory changes can be a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s disease, however, is not. Learn the differences between Alzheimer’s symptoms and normal aging, understand other potential causes of memory loss, and get tips on how to keep track of your loved one’s cognitive concerns to help prevent further decline.

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Is it Alzheimer's or something else?

Most people are unaware of how Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia actually affect the human body. With more than 5.8 million people in the U.S. living with the disease in 2019, there’s no better time to learn about the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to the disease and knowing how to spot the signs of potential illness, and knowing if it’s Alzheimer’s is a critical line of defense in the fight against age-related cognitive diseases. Research has shown that there are plaques that first attack the brain and these plaques not only physically deteriorate it, but also inhibit normal nervous system functioning to the rest of the body.

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

But how do you know whether your parent is having a moment of forgetfulness or whether there’s actually cause for concern? Here are some tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s or neurological symptoms?

Neurological problems can be a warning sign for Alzheimer’s and dementia. After all, the brain is part of the nervous system. So if your parent is having these sorts of problems with their motor skills, it’s definitely worth visiting a doctor:
  • Major changes in personality:Big changes from financial decision-making to personal grooming
  • Physical changes:Whether reading is suddenly difficult, or judging distance or discerning color seems a challenge
  • Trouble speaking or writing:Including struggles with following a conversation or repeating themselves

Alzheimer’s or forgetfulness?

Anyone can have a bad day, but there’s definitely a difference between a minor episode or two compared to frequent issues with the following:
  • Brain freeze: Forgetting the rules of a game, losing their train of thought, or forgetting where they’re going are part of a normal human experience, but the frequency and severity of these episodes can foreshadow a problem.
  • Confusion: Forgetting an appointment is normal, but forgetting the appointment location — or how to get there — can signal a warning.
  • Losing things: Your parent might misplace their keys occasionally, but misplacing objects on a daily basis may be cause for concern.

Dementia or depression?

Often depression can be confused for dementia. If your parent is feeling overwhelmed or overwrought, their brain is often overloaded. Here are some signs that your parent could be suffering from either depression or dementia — and a doctor is the best person to distinguish the difference.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Having trouble following plans and recipes, or having problems keeping track of bills
  • Disruptions in everyday life: Forgetting recently learned information or needing to rely more on other people for daily tasks
  • Mood swings: Unusual anxiety, confusion, fear, paranoia, suspicion, or recognized depression
  • Social withdrawal: Including removal from hobbies, sports, and work activities

Is it Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

While Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia, there are other types of dementia and other illness that have similar symptoms. While it is usually a straightforward task for a physician to determine whether someone has dementia, the cause is not always easy to pinpoint. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, memory loss can be caused by a number of treatable conditions, such as:
  • Brain tumors
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Thyroid problems
  • Vitamin deficiencies
There are several types of dementia as well. Vascular dementia, for instance, is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s, but it is more likely to present itself in impaired judgment than in the memory loss characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. The type of dementia can also affect the type of treatment your parent receives.

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How doctors test for Alzheimer’s

It is imperative to have your parent or senior loved one get an appropriate medical evaluation if they show any of the above warning signs.
If the condition is treatable, then they may not need to worry about Alzheimer’s at all. If they do have Alzheimer’s and dementia or another dementia-causing condition, a timely diagnosis can help you plan for the future.
A Senior Care Advisor can help you learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia care facilities and explore care options for your loved one.


Meet the Author
Dana Larsen

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.