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10 warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

Tips to improve your brain health

This article was last updated on June 7, 2023. 

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. More than 6 million Americans are currently living with the disease External Site and by 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's or another dementia — making it more deadly than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. And, in 2020 alone, COVID-19 contributed to a 17 percent increase in Alzheimer's and dementia deaths. 

With statistics like these, it's important to know the signs.

Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer's or other dementia. Alzheimer's causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. If you notice any of these symptoms, don't ignore them.

10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s

According to The Alzheimer's Association, difficulty remembering newly learned information is the most common early symptom of Alzheimer's External Site. The organization also recommends scheduling an appointment with a primary care provider if you or someone you know is experiencing these 10 warning signs External Site.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  8. Decreased or poor judgment.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
  10. Changes in mood and personality.

Notice these symptoms in yourself or a loved one?

Make an appointment with your doctor. Getting checked out for Alzheimer's disease to potentially detect an issue early can help you save on medical costs, prepare for the future and feel less anxiety about the unknown. To find a provider in your health plan network, Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield members should log in to myWellmark® — your secure, member portal. Don’t have an account? Register to access today.

The difference between Alzheimer's and age-related memory changes

As we age, it's normal to experience some slowed thinking and problems remembering things every once in awhile. However, serious memory loss and confusion could be a sign of Alzheimer's and dementia.

Use the chart below to decode the signs and symptoms.

Typical age-related changes Signs of Alzheimer's

Making a bad decision once in a while

Poor judgment and decision-making

Missing a monthly payment

Inability to manage a budget

Forgetting which day it is and remembering later Losing track of the date or the season
 Sometimes forgetting which word to use Difficulty having a conversation
 Losing things from time to time Misplacing things and being unable to find them

Sometimes the person experiencing these signs and symptoms may not recognize them happening, so input from a family member can be helpful in recognizing patterns of memory loss and Alzheimer's. 

10 ways to protect your brain

Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits. When possible, combine these habits to boost both your brain and physical health. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate these 10 healthy habits, courtesy of the Alzheimer's Association External Site.

  1. Break a sweat

    Make regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body a priority. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of decline in brain function.

    Need some workout inspo? Check out our fitness section, with ideas you can start doing now — no matter your fitness level.
  2. Hit the books

    Formal education at any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.

  3. Butt out

    Evidence shows that smoking isn't good for your lungs or your brain. Quitting smoking can restore your brain function to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.

  4. Follow your heart

    Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke — obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.

  5. Heads up

    Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.

  6. Fuel up right

    Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Although research on diet and mental function is limited, certain diets, including Mediterranean and Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), may contribute to risk reduction.

  7. Catch some Zzz's

    Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.

  8. Take care of your mental health

    Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of decline in brain function, so get medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.

  9. Buddy up

    Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family.

  10. Stump yourself

    Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain.