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Do People With Alzheimer's Know They Have It?

Discover the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. Seniorly explores whether Alzheimer’s patients understand if they have the disease.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Nov 22, 2022

There are many different types of dementia, and Alzheimer's disease is just one. It's important to know the signs and symptoms of the condition so that if you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with it they can get treatment as soon as possible. Early diagnosis for the early stages of Alzheimer's is important for maintaining or improving health and for planning care.

People may not know that they have Alzheimer's disease because the symptoms are gradual. It is important to be aware if you think you might have memory loss so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. Memory loss may start slowly, but it progresses over time until there is very little memory at all. The best way for patients and families to get an early diagnosis is by being aware of the symptoms so that they can be reported to a doctor when needed. Symptoms and risk factors of Alzheimer's disease may include: 

  • memory problems, such as forgetting important dates or events 
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • losing the ability to do simple math problems
  • decrease in dexterity or other physical abilities
  • losing the ability to perform daily tasks in daily life situations
  • mood, behavior, or ​personality changes
  • repeating questions
  • losing or misplacing items
  • increased anxiety or aggression

If you or your loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms or any other impairment, contact your doctor to see if they can be caused by Alzheimer's disease.

The earlier Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed, the higher the chances of keeping your memory and thinking abilities as long as possible. It is important to tell your doctor if you think you are having problems with memory loss because it could be an early symptom of Alzheimer's.

The first step in diagnosing Alzheimer's disease is talking to a primary care physician, who will do the initial screening for cognitive issues like memory loss and mental decline. They may refer patients to other specialists, like neurologists or geriatricians, who can do in-depth tests to determine if they have the disease.

The earlier Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed the more likely treatment will be able to slow down or stop the development of symptoms. When visiting a doctor for memory loss issues, you may also receive treatment for other conditions that contribute to cognitive decline and memory loss such as depression, heart disease, and vitamin deficiencies. A diagnosis of these conditions will make it easier for your doctor to create a treatment plan that will work best for you.

Early warning signs of dementia

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 35.6 million people live with dementia. This number is expected to double by 2030 (65.7 million) and more than triple by 2050 (115.4 million). As these numbers are continuing to rise it is important to understand and recognize the symptoms of dementia such as memory loss, difficulty performing normal tasks, social withdrawal, confusion, communication problems, changes in behavior, and depression. 

Alzheimer’s may also cause irritability, difficulty concentrating, mood swings, anxiety, fear, and bouts of anger. Many individuals that have Alzheimer’s can recognize that something is wrong, but not everyone is aware of what is happening to them. 

Due to the way that the brain with dementia controls emotions, this could lead a person to inappropriate crying or laughing. Excessive sleeping is also more common in those who have later-stage dementia. 

Sundowning refers to a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and can occur at any stage of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sundowner’s Syndrome is an ailment that affects many older adults in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. It can cause feelings of confusion, agitation, and overwhelming sadness. When these feelings are triggered, it can be called “Sundowning” or “Sundown.” Most patients experience the most troubling symptoms during the late afternoon, evening, and nighttime hours when the sun starts to set; hence the name “Sundowner’s Syndrome.”

When someone doesn’t recognize something is wrong 

The term Anosognosia refers to particular cases when people don’t realize anything is wrong. Anosognosia is thought to be the result of cell damage in the brain, usually the right prefrontal and parietal lobes. This is known to happen during a stroke or as cells decline due to Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Anosognosia isn’t a denial of one’s situation, but an actual medical condition. Family members and caregivers may notice a change in their loved one’s behaviors while their loved ones may proclaim that everything is just fine and normal. 

Caring for someone who doesn’t realize their memory is fading can be very challenging as their disease progresses. Caring for someone who has no idea they are actually ill can make it much more difficult. They may refuse assistance with medications because they don’t feel that anything is wrong. They may also refuse help with everyday tasks that they actually need help with such as staying home alone, driving, or going to the store. 

There may be days of lucidity where everything seems to be normal in your loved one’s life and then the next they are confused and forgetful. This is all part of the Alzheimer’s Disease process. 

Try to avoid disagreements with someone who has Anosognosia, as it can only lead to confusion, agitation, distrust, and possibly fear. Trying to convince them that there is a problem may not be enough. After consulting with your loved one’s physician it may be time to consider long-term care planning for your loved one with in-home care or memory care options.

For more information, resources, and Alzheimer support groups contact the Alzheimer's Association.

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written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Copywriter for Seniorly, with 5+ years experience in professional caregiving and senior housing
View other articles written by Lydia

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