caregiver assisting old manAlzheimer’s progresses through three distinct stages: early or mild, middle or moderate, and late or severe. The disease can slowly advance over decades or deterioration may be quick.

While it’s often easy to identify middle or moderate Alzheimer’s disease, the mild stage may be confused for age-related forgetfulness. Learn more about the early phase of this disease.

Pre-Clinical and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive changes due to early Alzheimer’s disease often appear 10 to 20 years before symptoms emerge. Called pre-clinical Alzheimer’s, this condition can only be detected using medical imaging.

Individuals may also develop a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. MCI is characterized by changes in memory and ability to judge time or what’s involved in a task. As such, the condition can lead to memory lapses and affect decision-making.

Characteristics of Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease

Early-stage Alzheimer’s is not always easy to identify, especially when individuals remain independent or require only a moderate amount of assistance. The condition is frequently dismissed as old age in those who continue to drive, socialize and only experience minor memory lapses.

Compared to middle and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, the early stage is often characterized by:

  • Forgetting the names of new people and those you’ve known for years
  • Occasionally forgetting the names of common objects
  • Moderate difficulties performing work-related tasks
  • Difficulties remembering information you just read
  •  Occasionally misplacing objects like your car keys
  • Challenges with socializing, organizing and making plans
  • Difficulty with more challenging decisions, including those related to finances
  • Being unable to follow conversations
  • Occasionally getting lost, including in familiar locations
  • Changes in visual perception
  • Emotional changes, including depression, anxiety, frustration and irritability
  • Changes in impulse control and inhibition

Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease

Individuals who develop dementia symptoms before age 65 – sometimes as early as their 30s or 40s – have what’s called early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The signs include:

  • Forgetting recently learned information
  • Not remembering important dates or forgetting the time of year
  • Repeatedly asking for the same information
  • Being unable to manage your life, from paying bills to following directions
  • Challenges engaging in or following conversations
  • Forgetting words for common, everyday objects
  • Forgetting the reason for travel and how to return home
  • Changes in depth perception
  • Difficulty with making decisions and issues with judgement
  • Becoming more socially withdrawn or agitated


For both early-stage and early-onset Alzheimer’s, your healthcare provider may recommend tests to evaluate your memory, problem-solving and other cognitive skills. You or your loved ones may also be asked how these changes impact your ability to complete activities of daily living. From there, most patients meet with a neuropsychologist or undergo medical imaging to assess any physical changes.

As the disease currently has no cure and is not reversible, Alzheimer’s treatment focuses on slowing its progression and managing the symptoms. You may be prescribed cognitive and physical exercises or a medication like donepezil or galantamine.
Have you noticed that a loved one is more forgetful or can no longer find their way home without assistance? Bring your concerns to the medical team at Avon Health Center. To learn about our services or make an appointment, contact us today.