Early Signs Of Alzheimer's Disease Aren't What You Think

Amy Schaeffer

Many people have seen the slow decline of a relative or friend with Alzheimer's disease. Sometimes the disease even strikes the relatively young, and progresses rapidly. It's terrifying to most people because it is non-discriminatory upon who it preys, and eventually robs the individual of their thoughts, memory, physical condition, independence, and relationships.

Alzheimer's has likely been around for a long time, but has been called "senility" and "dementia." Dementia is still a broad term of cognitive dysfunction that may include Alzheimer's, but also encompasses several other neurological syndromes.

Most people associate Alzheimer's with memory loss, and that is a hallmark sign, but it's a moderate or late sign. Early signs of Alzheimer's are more important to detect because there are medications and activities that can slow the progression of the disease.

So what are the very first symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

According to Headlines And Global News, the very first symptom of Alzheimer's isn't memory loss at all. It is anxiety and/or depression. This is frightening news to many, as approximately a third to one half of society has struggled with anxiety or depression at some time or chronically.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis began the study in order to identify early symptoms. Researchers followed 2,416 people, age 50 and above, who visited 34 Alzheimer's disease centers across the United States, but were not diagnosed with the disease. During the seven-year follow-up period, researchers discovered that more than half of them developed dementia, which is significantly disproportionate with societal risk as a whole.

Common changes observed among those who developed dementia include boredom, behavioral changes like loss of appetite or excessive appetite, irritability, and depression. These changes were seen earlier than those who did not develop dementia. For instance, 30 percent of those who developed dementia experienced depression after four years of the study, compared to the 15 percent who don't have dementia. What researchers aren't sure of is if depression causes Alzheimer's or Alzheimer's causes depression.

But lead researcher and study author Catherine Roe, an assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine, had some reassuring words about anxiety and depression to share with HealthDay News. Roe also touched on the general importance of keeping an open mind when such symptoms appear.

"I wouldn't worry at this point if you're feeling anxious, depressed or tired that you have underlying Alzheimer's, because in most cases it has nothing to do with an underlying Alzheimer's process. We're just trying to get a better idea of what Alzheimer's looks like before people are even diagnosed with dementia. We're becoming more interested in symptoms occurring with Alzheimer's, but not what people typically think of."