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Do You Recognize the 21 Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer's?

Tim Boyer's picture
Alzheimer's Disease

Being able to recognize the 21 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease is an important part of taking care of an aging parent or other loved one. Researchers have devised an Alzheimer’s questionnaire that physicians as well as family members can use to determine if someone in the family is showing any warning signs of Alzheimer’s.

The following article is a list of the 21 warning signs and a scoring system to determine whether your parent may be beginning to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s test—also known as the “AQ Test”—is a scored series of simple yes/no questions that are indicative of whether someone has or is beginning to develop Alzheimer’s. A score between 15 and 27 is indicative of Alzheimer’s disease, whereas a score 4 or lower indicates that the person does not have significant memory problems. A score between 5 and 14 indicates that the parent might have amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI)—a foreshadowing of potential development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The value of the test is that it can help family members monitor their aging parents’ mental status and alert their parent’s primary care physician with useful information to support concerns about their parent’s health.

The 21 early warning signs of Alzheimer’s are divided into areas of memory, orientation, functional ability, visuospatial awareness and learning. The warning signs are posed as questions a family member can ask themselves toward evaluating their parent’s mental condition and is taken in its entirety from a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The only changes made are reflected in substituting the phrase “the patient” with “your parent.”


1. Does your parent have memory loss? 1

2. If so, is their memory worse than a few years ago? 1

3. Does your parent repeat questions OR statements OR stories in the same day?2

4. Have you had to take over tracking events OR appointments? OR does your parent forget appointments? 1

5. Does your parent misplace items more than once a month? OR does your parent misplace objects so that he or she cannot find them? 1

6. Does your parent suspect others are moving, hiding or stealing items when they cannot find them? 1


7. Does your parent frequently have trouble knowing the day, date, month, year, time? OR does your parent have to use cues like the newspaper or the calendar to know the day and date more than once a day? 2

8. Does your parent become disoriented in unfamiliar places? 1

9. Does your parent become more confused outside the home or when traveling? 1

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Functional Ability

10. Excluding physical limitations (e.g., tremor, hemiparesis, etc.), does your parent have trouble handling money (tips, calculating change?) 1

11. Excluding physical limitations (e.g., tremor, hemiparesis, etc.), does your parent have trouble paying bills or doing finances OR are family members taking over finances because of concerns about ability? 2

12. Does your parent have trouble remembering to take medications or tracking medications taken? 1

13. Is your parent having difficulty driving? OR are you concerned about your parent’s driving? OR has your parent stopped driving for reasons other than physical limitations? 1

14. Is your parent having trouble using appliances (e.g., microwave, oven, stove, remote control, telephone, alarm clock)? 1

15. Excluding physical limitations, is your parent having difficulty in completing home repair or other home related tasks (housekeeping)? 1

16. Excluding physical limitations, has your parent given up or significantly reduced activities such as golfing, dancing, exercising, or crafts? 1


17. Is your parent getting lost in familiar surroundings (own neighborhood)? 2

18. Does your parent have a decreased sense of direction? 1


19. Does your parent have trouble finding words other than names? 1

20. Does your parent confuse names of family members or friends? 2

21. Does your parent have difficulty recognizing people familiar to him/her? 2

If your parent is in good health both physically and mentally, and you find that remembering the 21 warning signs may be a little premature and unwieldy, here are four early, early warning signs of Alzheimer’s that indicates amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) may be developing.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “The Alzheimer’s Questionnaire: A Proof of Concept Study for a New Informant-Based Dementia Assessment” J Alzheimer’s Dis. 2010; 22(3): 1015–1021; Marwan N Sabbagh, Michael Malek-Ahmadi, Rahul Katari, Christine Belden, Donald J. Connor, Caleb Pearson, Sandra Jacobson, Kathryn Davis, Roy Yaari and Upinder Singh.