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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The first stage of Alzheimer’s disease is often called pre-dementia or mild cognitive impairment. This stage involves very mild signs of deficiency that don’t affect daily life to any extent.

The most common symptom at this time is short-term memory loss, for example, a person may forget familiar words or names of people they know, or where they’ve put their glasses or keys. Thought processes might not always be totally logical. Apathy, where a person can be indifferent about various aspects of life, can occur at this stage, although it is more common later.

These symptoms are around the boundary of the normal ageing process and Alzheimer’s, and are seen as possible warning signs for the disease. Very mild symptoms can occur for a number of years before a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. However, they don’t always mean a person is heading for the disease.

Diagnosis is less usual at this stage as symptoms can relate to so many other things or indeed the normal ageing process. Many people have a poorer short-term memory than long-term memory throughout their lives. Also, apathy can relate to stress or depression rather than Alzheimer’s.

Often only in hindsight do we know whether a person exhibiting very mild symptoms had Alzheimer’s all along.