The National Institute on Aging estimated that 5.1 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease, a common type of dementia. Changes occur in the brain of an Alzheimer’s disease patient, causing the loss of normal function.
Two types of abnormal formations occur in the brain: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Amyloid plaques are made up of fragments of beta-amyloid peptide and other particles, such as remnants of neurons.
The neurofibrillary tangles are clumps of tau protein, which affect the functionality of neurons. Connections are also lost between certain neurons in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, affecting memory and learning.
One of the first symptoms of the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke stated that this symptom “may be mistaken for the kinds of memory changes that are sometimes associated with normal aging.”
However, these memory problems are not from normal aging. For example, the patient may misplace items or get lost when traveling on routes that are familiar to her.
The early stage of Alzheimer’s disease may affect the patient’s ability to learn new material. She may repeat questions, not knowing she already asked them.
Other areas of cognition can become affected in early Alzheimer’s disease. Language can be affected. The patient may have trouble finding the right word she wants to use or naming a familiar object. She may have difficulty performing tasks that require some effort.
For example, the patient may have trouble balancing her checkbook, when it previously was not an issue. Judgment and reasoning may also become affected.
A patient with early Alzheimer’s disease may experience changes in her mood and personality. These changes may include losing interest in activities she used to enjoy and a loss of her social skills.
The patient may also exhibit a flat mood, in which she has a reduction in her expression of emotion.
As the disease progresses, the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease become more severe.