Alzheimer’s DiseaseAlzheimer’s Signs and Symptoms

Let’s Talk About Alzheimer’s Signs and Symptoms

With Alzheimer's, changes in thinking and capabilities tend to become more obvious every six months or so.

    Our Pro PanelAlzheimer's Signs and Symptoms

    We went to some of the nation’s top experts in Alzheimer’s to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Zoe Arvanitakis, M.D. headshot.

    Zoe Arvanitakis, M.D.Medical Director; Professor of Neurological Studies

    Rush Memory Clinic; Rush Medical College
    Andrew E. Budson, M.D. headshot.

    Andrew E. Budson, M.D.Professor of Neurology

    Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine
    Suzanne Craft, Ph.D. headshot.

    Suzanne Craft, Ph.D.Professor of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine

    Wake Forest School of Medicine
    Winston-Salem, NC

    Frequently Asked QuestionsAlzheimer's Signs and Symptoms

    I totally blanked on my PIN number when it came time to pay with my debit card. Could this be an early sign of Alzheimer’s?

    Forgetting things is common, especially the older you get, since it sometimes takes a while for your brain to retrieve information, even info you’ve used daily for years. Poor sleep and stress can also do a number on your ability to remember. But what distinguishes memory loss in Alzheimer’s is the pattern—not an occasional struggle to remember something but something that happens daily.

    What’s one sure sign that someone has Alzheimer’s?

    Repeating stories or questions over and over is a big red flag. Of course, everyone repeats a story now and then, but halfway through, you probably say, "Oh my God, I told you that already, didn't I?" Again—it’s the pattern. When you’re telling the same stories to the same people again and again and again, or asking the same questions over and over and over again, that's not normal, and should be checked out by a doctor.

    Why bother knowing I have Alzheimer’s if there’s no cure for the disease?

    Because you can do things that will help you live a fuller life. Getting diagnosed with the disease can put you under the care of a specialist (like a neuropsychologist or geriatric psychiatrist). They can recommend drugs that can boost your memory for a year or two if you have mild Alzheimer’s, or at least bump up your day-to-day functioning if you’re in the moderate stage. Your provider can put you in touch with clinical trials, where researchers are studying the effects of drugs that may slow the decline. And just making simple changes—exercising more, eating healthier, quitting smoking—can improve your mood and your health, which in turn can improve your brain.

    My grandmother was just told she has Alzheimer’s and I’m devastated. How long will it be before she forgets who I am?

    It may be a few years or never. Memory loss is unpredictable. Some people will remember and recognize faces, especially those of family members they saw regularly before they had dementia. If you were a big part of your grandmother’s life, then she’ll probably continue to remember your face and possibly your name (with prompting). Remember too that some days are better than others, so if she forgets who you are on one visit, she may have no problem the next one.

    • Statistics on Alzheimer’s: Alzheimer’s and Dementia (2020). “2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.”

    • Stats on Alzheimer’s Caregivers: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). “Caregiving For a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease or a Related Dementia.”

    • MCI Statistics: Practitioner (2017). “Diagnosing and Managing Mild Cognitive Impairment.”

    • MCI and Mood Changes: JAMA Psychiatry (2008). “Prevalence of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Normal Cognitive Aging.”

    • Differences Between MCI and Mild Dementia: Mayo Clinic Proceedings (2014). “Mild Cognitive Impairment and Mild Dementia: A Clinical Perspective.”

    • Effects of Lifestyle Changes on Dementia Risk: Alzheimer’s and Dementia (2018). “Multidomain lifestyle intervention benefits a large elderly population at risk for cognitive decline and dementia regardless of baseline characteristics: The FINGER trial.” doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2017.09.006

    Linda Rodgers

    Linda Rodgers


    Linda Rodgers is a former magazine and digital editor turned writer, focusing on health and wellness.