Tell-Tale Sign of Alzheimer's: Personality Changes

Many patients who go on to develop dementia first exhibit mood problems
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2016 1:54 PM CDT
Tell-Tale Sign of Alzheimer's: Personality Changes
In this Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, photo, Amelia and Brian Cottle hold hands at their home in Pierpont, Mo. Brian was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's at age 52, four years ago. Since that time Amelia, his wife of 30 years, has become his full-time care partner.   (Kayla Wolf/Missourian via AP)

Scientists who currently look at mild cognitive impairment as an early indicator of Alzheimer's might have another tell-tale sign: Moodiness or behavioral changes, which they say show up in people who develop full-blown dementia. Researchers at the University of Calgary are proposing that doctors begin to use a 34-question checklist to sooner identity people at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's, reports WebMD. They're calling it "mild behavioral impairment," and neuropsychiatrist Zahinoor Ismail says they're on the lookout for not "just a blip in behavior, but a fundamental change" that has lasted at least six months. “Most people think of Alzheimer’s as primarily a memory disorder, but we do know ... that it also can start as a behavioral issue," says the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers program at the National Institute on Aging, who wasn't involved in developing the checklist, but advocates it.

Questions range from "Has the person become agitated, aggressive, irritable, or temperamental?" and "Does she/he have unrealistic beliefs about her/his power, wealth or skills?" to "Does she/he no longer care about anything?" And while there are concerns of false positives from the screening—that over-diagnosis can cause stress and unnecessary expense, among other things—many in the field welcome such a test, which could help patients combat any behavioral issues as well as prepare for dementia down the road, reports the New York Times. Ismail says that while the "stealth symptom" of behavioral changes can be as innocuous as increased apathy, they can also be stark; he saw one patient in her 70s go from "prude to promiscuous," while a law-abiding 67-year-old picked up an addiction to crack-cocaine. (The so-called Alzheimer's gene is helping reclassify the disease as a development disorder.)

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