Is a Personality Change an Early Sign of Alzheimer’s?

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Is a Personality Change an Early Sign of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that can cause a person’s memory, thinking and reasoning skills to gradually deteriorate. Many of us are familiar with warning signs like memory loss and confusion. A number of additional early red flags include:

 

  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Trouble doing regular tasks
  • Trouble retracing steps/losing things
  • Poor judgment, especially with money
  • Difficulty writing or speaking
  • Withdraw from work/social activities

These symptoms are closely related to cognitive skills and are easier to tie to Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.

But what if a loved one’s personality changes? Could that be a sign of Alzheimer’s or a related form of dementia?

Some personality changes that could be early signs of Alzheimer’s are:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delusions

Newer research is exploring the connection between changes in personality and the likelihood of it being linked to Alzheimer’s.

New Alzheimer’s Research on Mild Behavioral Impairment

Neuropsychiatrists and Alzheimer’s experts recently conducted a study that resulted in a proposed new diagnosis called Mild Behavioral Impairment (MBI). It would serve as early detector of Alzheimer’s. This diagnosis would identify mood or behavioral changes in a person and whether or not it is an early sign of dementia.

The group shared their theory at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto in 2016. They presented a checklist of 34 questions family members could use to determine if a family member’s sudden personality change is a sign of early stage of Alzheimer’s.

These questions included:

  • Do they have unrealistic beliefs about their power, wealth or skills?
  • Do they no longer care about things?
  • Have they become agitated, aggressive, irritable or temperamental?

Researchers believe if the answers to these questions are yes, and have been for months, the personality change could be cause for concern. Their thinking is that while Alzheimer’s is often seen as a memory disorder, it’s important to realize that the disease could also begin as a behavioral issue.

Unfortunately, as is true of many issues related to Alzheimer’s disease, there is no clear agreement on whether this is a legitimate diagnosis or not. More research will need to be conducted.

The one area where anyone who studies the disease can find common ground is to take a, “better than safe than sorry” approach when noticeable mental changes take place with a loved one. Ignoring any early signs of Alzheimer’s whether they’re cognitive or behavioral can delay early interventions that give seniors and their families the help and support they need.

If you notice a significant personality change in someone, and it’s been going on for a few months, it might be time to schedule a physical exam with their primary care physician. They can help you get to the bottom of what might be wrong. And the good news is it might be something treatable, such as an infection or a thyroid disorder.

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