Forgetfulness is typically not the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
That’s the surprising finding of a new study by Canadian researchers. They found the earliest signal of the brain-robbing illness is one that is often overlooked.
It’s personality change. To be precise, the researchers describe it as sudden behavior changes that have lasted for months.1
Alzheimer’s researchers have long believed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the first sign a person might be developing Alzheimer’s.
MCI is a decline in memory and thinking skills. But until it progresses into full-blown Alzheimer’s, a patient can still perform normal daily functions.
In the new study, scientists followed 282 patients at a memory disorder center. Researchers say they found that behavior changes often occur in Alzheimer’s patients before the forgetfulness of MCI sets in. At other times, abrupt behavior changes happen at the same time as MCI.
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In one study, 21 patients with Alzheimer’s drank this common fruit juice each day. After 30 days, their mood and behavior improved. They experienced less anxiety, depression, and delusion. The head researcher noted, “They had a better quality of life.” Another study on mice found the same thing.
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The study found that 82% of people with early Alzheimer’s also had one or more behavior abnormalities. This condition has been dubbed mild behavior impairment (MBI).
The study showed not only that MBI usually comes before MCI… It revealed that MBI leads to faster progression of Alzheimer’s.
The researchers found that 13% of patients with MCI progress to Alzheimer’s within one year. But if a patient also had a behavior issue (MBI), the rate almost doubled to 25%.2
The research was recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto.3
Nina Silverberg is director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers program at the National Institute on Aging. “Most people think of Alzheimer’s as primarily a memory disorder,” she noted. “But we do know it also can start as a behavioral issue.”
Dr. Zahinoor Ismail was the lead researcher on the project. He works at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute. Behavior changes that come before Alzheimer’s are usually not subtle, he says. They happen abruptly. It’s typically obvious to those around them.
“It’s a sustained change from their former ways of functioning,” Dr. Ismail said.
These Personality Changes May Indicate Early Alzheimer’s
Dr. Ismail and his colleagues developed a checklist of symptoms that can indicate MBI. Researchers say if a symptom is temporary or explained by a specific life event, such as bereavement, it does not indicate MBI.4
But if one or more of the following behaviors goes on for months, it can be a clear sign of the condition:
- Apathy: Suddenly losing interest in favorite activities such as gardening, baking, or interacting with others.
- Appetite: Abruptly losing interest in favorite foods and eating less.
- Ignoring social norms: Out-of-character behaviors such as suddenly borrowing money, selling beloved possessions, or gambling. One 68-year-old patient started using cocaine. Another went “from prude to promiscuous.”
- Making crude comments: Public use of inappropriate words and expressions by people who were more tactful before.
- Paranoia: Suddenly becoming suspicious of others, particularly people close to them whom they had trusted for years.
- Anxiety: Becoming upset by routine events. People with even-keeled personalities may suddenly start getting emotional at church or while watching television.
- Irritability: A cordial person may suddenly start having heated arguments with friends and family members. They may launch into road rage.
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In Good Health,
Executive Director, INH Health Watch
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