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More Than Just Memory Loss: Understanding Agitation Due to Alzheimer's Disease

More Than Just Memory Loss: Understanding Agitation Due to Alzheimer's Disease

This article is for people who are living with Alzheimer's disease (AD), their care partners, and anyone who wants to learn more about AD. The goal of this activity is to help people who are living with AD and their care partners talk to their doctor and healthcare team about AD symptoms, including agitation.

You will learn about:

  • What AD is and what its symptoms are

  • What agitation is in AD and how to recognize it

  • Causes of agitation in people who are living with AD

  • Questions you can ask your doctor and healthcare team about AD symptoms, including agitation

Test Your Knowledge

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease, or AD, is a brain disorder that slowly damages your memory and thinking skills. In time, it usually leads to dementia and death.

Dementia is when your memory, thinking, and social skills have become so poor due to a brain disorder or injury that you can't do simple tasks without help. AD is the most common cause of dementia.

AD is more common in people who are 65 years of age and older, but it can even happen to people in their 30s. A small number of adults between 30 and 65 years of age develop what's known as early-onset AD.

There's no cure for AD, but scientists are looking for ways to slow or reverse the brain damage that AD causes. They're also trying to find more treatments for AD symptoms.

Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

The course of AD is different for everyone, but it follows the same basic pattern. Brain changes due to AD start many years before symptoms appear. This is called the preclinical stage, and you probably won't even know you have AD.

Next comes early-stage AD, where you have mild symptoms of dementia. This is followed by the middle stage, which is the longest stage of AD. Dementia symptoms are moderate, and you need help with everyday tasks.

In late-stage AD, damage from the disorder affects most of your brain. Dementia symptoms are severe, and death becomes more likely.

Symptoms in Early-Stage AD

AD symptoms vary among people. In general, when you have early-stage AD, you or people in your life may notice you have mild problems such as:

  • Memory loss that affects your daily life, like losing track of dates or planned events

  • The need to ask the same questions over and over

  • Trouble planning, solving problems, and doing everyday tasks like cooking, paying bills, or playing a game

  • Confusion about time or place, such as where you are or what's happening later

  • Changes in mood or behavior

AD is usually diagnosed at this stage.

Symptoms in Middle-Stage AD

In middle-stage AD, symptoms get worse and may include:

  • Forgetting or being confused about the facts of your life or things that happened

  • Being unable to focus or learn new things

  • Struggling to find words

  • Finding it hard to read, write, or do math

  • Saying things that don't make sense to others

  • Not always recognizing family members or friends

  • Having more problems with emotions and behavior

  • Seeing or believing in things that aren't real

  • Having trouble sleeping

  • Finding it harder to walk, balance, or move around

At this stage of AD, you'll need someone to watch over you more and to help with your daily needs.

Symptoms in Late-Stage AD

Dementia symptoms in late-stage AD are severe. You may:

  • Not be able to talk with people

  • Not know where you are or what's going on around you

  • Find it hard to swallow or have no interest in eating (this can cause unplanned weight loss)

  • Have more health issues, including seizures, pneumonia (a lung infection), and problems with your teeth, skin, and feet

  • Forget to go to the bathroom to relieve yourself

  • Sleep a lot more

People with late-stage AD need constant care and have a higher risk of dying from an illness related to AD.

Agitation in AD

Agitation is a common symptom of AD, even in the early stage. Agitation can make you feel restless. You may have trouble keeping still and fidget or pace. In bed, especially at night, you may feel the urge to move your legs and get up to wander.

Agitation can cause you to become upset or angry. You may even act in a violent way toward someone caring for you.

Many things can make agitation more likely in people who are living with AD, including anxiety (feeling very worried), brain damage due to AD, and some medicines.

Once you start experiencing agitation, changes in your routine, sounds or lights, feeling uncomfortable, and other simple things can touch it off.

Managing Agitation in AD

If you care for someone who's living with AD and agitation, try to keep the space around them calm and quiet and free of things known to bother them. And make their routines simple.

When they're agitated, stay calm. Ask what the problem is and how you can help.

It's important to see the person's doctor about agitation to make sure an illness or medicine isn't causing it. The doctor can also talk to you about how to spot signs of agitation and ways to manage it.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About AD Symptoms

Questions you or your care partner can ask your doctor and healthcare team about AD symptoms and agitation include:

  • What are the symptoms of AD?

  • What causes agitation in AD?

  • How do you know if someone who is living with AD has agitation?

  • What can be done to help with AD symptoms, including agitation?

  • Does agitation go away? Will it get worse over time?

  • Where can I find more information about AD symptoms?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program More Than Just Memory Loss: Understanding Agitation Due to Alzheimer's Disease.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Alzheimer's and Dementia

What Is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease and Healthy Aging

Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Agitation and Aggression in Alzheimer's Disease

Helping Alzheimer's Caregivers

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC. Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


Christin Melton, ELS

Associate Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC. Christin Melton, ELS, has no relevant financial relationships.


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