Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Alzheimer's is a progressive disease.

In the earliest stages of AD:

  • New or recent memories are difficult to recall.

  • It is hard to learn and retain new information.

As the diseases gets a little worse:

Older or more distant memories are gradually lost.

  • Other symptoms may appear, including difficulty:

    • Expressing thoughts as spoken words

    • Carrying out simple instructions

    • Interpreting familiar faces or other well-known objects

  • A person may not be able to:

    • Plan meals

    • Manage money

    • Remember to keep doors locked

    • Remember to take medicines

    • Retain their sense of direction, even in a familiar neighborhood.

On the other hand, a person with early AD usually is able to feed, bathe, dress and groom without help.

Many people with AD develop psychological problems. These may include personality changes, irritability, anxiety or depression.

As AD progresses to its middle and late stages, the affected individual may:

  • Have delusions. These are irrational beliefs, especially about being persecuted or having belongings stolen.

  • Have hallucinations. They may believe that they see, hear, smell, taste, or are being touched by something that isn't really there.

  • Become aggressive.

  • Wander away from home if left alone.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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