5 Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease Most People Aren’t Aware of, Say Doctors

Updated: Oct. 17, 2023

Following Tony Bennett's death from the disease that affects an estimated 7 million Americans (and countless loved ones), experts share the subtle symptoms of Alzheimer's it can be key to keep an eye out for.

Tony Bennett on stage
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Over the weekend Tony Bennett, legendary US jazz and pop singer, lost his reported seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Bennett made occasional appearances to perform even in recent years, which is one reason some fans are surprised to learn the 96-year-old had been battling the illness. But signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease go beyond memory loss, disorientation, and agitation—in fact, say experts, there are symptoms of this brain condition that it’s possible you don’t know. 

“Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that gets worse over time and generally causes a decline in memory, learning, thinking, and organization,” says Kristin Gill, MD, board-certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Minded. “The condition most commonly affects those over the age of 65 and is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for an estimated 60 to 80% of dementia cases.”

Here are the subtle symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that aren’t has commonly talked about, says Dr. Gill and a couple brain expert colleagues.

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1. Changes in sleep 

Many people suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, but a change in sleep patterns may also be indicative of Alzheimer’s disease. “Changes in sleep patterns are quite common in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr. Gill says. “These changes may include difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings during the night and daytime sleepiness. This not only affects the quality of life of those suffering from the disease, but also poses challenges for family members, partners, and caregivers.” 

If this is a problem, then you’ll want to consult with your licensed healthcare provider or a sleep doctor to get to the root cause of the sleep issues whether or not it’s Alzheimer’s, sleep apnea, or something else.

Senior man looking at old photographs
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2. Withdrawing from social activities 

Social withdrawal is a symptom frequently associated with anxiety and depression, but it may also be indicative of Alzheimer’s. 

“Social withdrawal, characterized by a diminished interest in social activities and decreased engagement in previously enjoyed hobbies, can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, serving as a crucial cue for early diagnosis and intervention,” says Dr. Gill. 

For example, if an individual used to go to a weekly bingo game and no longer shows interest, this could be a signal worth keeping an eye on.

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3. Word confusion 

We aren’t talking about not being able to figure out a crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper—but instead, difficulty with words used in daily conversations. Every once in a while a word will escape all of us…however, for those with Alzheimer’s disease, this will often happen with common words.

These are not complicated or esoteric words, but common ones,” says Dr. RJ Tesi, MD, CEO and CMO of INmune Bio. “For instance: ‘I am going to _____ the dog.’ Forgetting or stumbling over the word ‘walk’ would be a surprise under normal circumstances.” 

Man working at home
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4. Poor executive functioning 

The skills commonly associated with executive functioning may be compromised with Alzheimer’s disease — this generally includes following directions, staying focused, and adhering to a plan. 

Executive function is the most complicated task of the human mind, as it’s a three-dimensional chess game that requires integrating the risks, the benefits, the impact on others, and the timing,” says Dr. Tesi. 

He adds that this is generally the first task to fail in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

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Senior woman talking on phone and and writing in her home
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5. Poor judgment 

Dr. Anjali Patel, DO, a fellowship-trained cognitive neurologist at the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute at Overlook Medical Center, says that normal age-related changes in judgment may look like missing a payment once, or making a mistake every once in a while. However, for those with Alzheimers it may be a little more serious.

“An example would be an individual giving away personal information to strangers or not being able to manage a budget,” says Patel. 

Gill adds that poor judgment could potentially interfere with personal safety and hygiene depending on the individual.

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