How to Recognize the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

5 min read  |  April 19, 2024  | 
Disponible en Español |

As the U.S. and world population grows older, it’s understandable that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related dementias is growing, as well. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s stands at around 7 million right now, but that number is projected to grow to nearly 13 million by 2050. 

For those of us with aging loved ones, it’s understandable that we want to protect their health and preserve their memory as long as possible. We’re all looking for ways to recognize the signs and prevent these common age-related diseases. 

Recognize the signs of memory loss

Rosie E. Curiel Cid, Psy.D., Chief of Cross-Cultural Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience for the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Aging, says that recognizing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia can be tricky. That’s because they can mimic the forgetfulness or slowness that typically comes with aging. 

“Some of the early signs, such as slight forgetfulness, trouble multitasking or losing the course of a conversation, are changes that can happen naturally as we age,” says Dr. Curiel Cid. “That’s why an objective evaluation of cognition is critically important.” 

Despite the challenges, there are some signs you can be on the lookout for. Dr. Curiel Cid says one clue is when the cognitive problem is experienced repetitively and consistently. If you start to notice things such as forgetfulness or word-finding difficulties on a consistent basis, for example, that’s a sign that something more serious may be affecting your brain than your typical age-related memory loss. 

Another sign to look out for, adds Dr. Curiel Cid, is the type of memory that seems to be intact in your older loved one. 

“They may be great at recalling memories from the distant past or autobiographical information but have trouble recalling recent information or learning new things,” she says. “If a recent memory or new skill is not being encoded properly, that’s a sign that a cognitive disorder may be present.” 

According to the BrightFocus Foundation, other potential early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Memory loss
  • Personality changes
  • Mood swings
  • Problems paying attention
  • Difficulties with language
  • Trouble with basic math
  • Low energy
  • Impaired movements 

How to get help

If you suspect that your older loved one is showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s certainly not an easy conversation. What makes matters worse, says Dr. Curiel Cid, is that a certain percentage of people have anosognosia, which is a lack of awareness of their neurological deficit or condition. 

She says that the best approach is to take on the conversation with a blend of honesty, compassion, directness and helpfulness. 

“If you have access to a memory disorders specialist, it’s important to see them for a comprehensive evaluation,” says Dr. Curiel Cid. “Unfortunately, there are not enough memory specialists currently around the country, but the Memory Disorders Clinic and the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UHealth are destinations for people who are concerned about their memory or risk for memory-related diseases.” 

Prevent cognitive decline

With the growing risk of Alzheimer’s disease in our population, Dr. Curiel Cid says the other piece of the puzzle is continuing to challenge your brain and body to stave off cognitive decline as long as possible. “A growing body of robust evidence is showing us what the pillars of brain health are that can reduce your risk of developing dementia,” she says. “Some risk factors, such as age and genetics, cannot be changed, but many others risk factors are modifiable.” 

As you grow older, Dr. Curiel Cid recommends focusing on the following to prevent cognitive decline:

  • Address hearing loss. If you suspect that you have a hearing problem as you grow into middle age or older, get it checked out by a medical professional.
  • Challenge your brain. By constantly trying new things and challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone, you can prevent cognitive decline. “This is more than just doing a crossword puzzle every day,” says Dr. Curiel Cid. “Try learning a new language or playing a new musical instrument. Challenge your brain.”
  • Exercise and diet. Time and again, research has shown that regular exercise and physical activity is the key to preventing age-related cognitive decline. Practicing good nutrition, particularly the tenets of the Mediterranean diet, has also shown benefit.
  • Stay engaged. Having healthy and robust social relationships can also help keep your brain limber as you age.
  • Treat other medical conditions. If you have other chronic medical conditions, keeping those under control is important for preserving brain health. This can include both physical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases or mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. 
  • Take care of your mental health. Anxiety, depression and grief are prevalent among older adults, so it’s important to address any symptoms of prolonged sadness, reduced ability to enjoy what you used to enjoy or excessive worry by visiting a mental health professional. 

Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer’s Association, 2024,
  2. Interview with Rosie E. Curiel Cid, Psy.D., chief of Cross-Cultural Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuroscience for the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Aging.
  3. Alzheimer’s Disease Signs & Symptoms, BrightFocus Foundation, 2023,

Tags: Brain aging, brain health, Dr. Rosie E. Curiel Cid, memory loss

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