10 Early Signs & Symptoms of Dementia
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

10 Early Signs & Symptoms of Dementia

As we age, our brains change. Our memory isn’t always as sharp and our ability to multi-task tends to suffer. While frustrating, forgetting where you left your keys or even the name of the book you just finished, are normal parts of aging and nothing to be concerned about.

What’s not normal are changes in mental processing that interfere with daily life. Often, changes in personality, becoming increasingly confused, having a hard time holding a conversation, and even getting lost in familiar places can indicate a bigger issue; specifically, dementia.

The term dementia refers to changes in the brain that cause memory loss and a loss of function. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's—that’s 1 in 9 people age 65 and older. This number expands to 1 in 3 individuals over the age of 85 with dementia. Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer's are women and older black Americans are about two times as likely to have Alzheimer's or other dementias as older white Americans.

So how can you tell the difference between normal, age-related forgetfulness and a serious memory problem?

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends that people with one or more of the following 10 warning signs or symptoms should see a doctor.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life: this includes forgetting important dates or events, asking the same questions over and over, repeating yourself, or increasingly relying on memory aids—think sticky notes or electronic reminders.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems: this may include trouble staying on top of monthly bills, finding your way home when there is a detour in the road, learning how to use new technology, and requiring significantly more time to accomplish simple tasks.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks: this includes driving, cooking a recipe from memory, balancing a checkbook or creating a shopping list.

4. Confusion with time or place: this includes missing appointments frequently or forgetting that an event has already taken place.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations: problems judging distance and perceiving contrast in colors. This can significantly impact balance and lead to tripping over objects, or spilling or dropping things more often. 

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing: having trouble following or joining a conversation, struggling to name a familiar object, or having to stop in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: being unable to locate an object or even determine the last place they had it. People with dementia may also put things in unusual places and may often accuse others of stealing those items.  

8. Decreased or poor judgment: trouble maintaining basic hygiene, neglecting to care for a pet, or falling victim to a scam.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities: declining to attend favored social activities (e.g., church, cards, book club, etc.) or keeping up with things of interest (e.g., the news, favorite television shows, or sports teams).

10. Changes in mood, personality, and sleep: becoming easily confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. This may occur at home when others are visiting or when away from home in an unfamiliar or even familiar setting. Some people with dementia are awake or asleep at odd hours of the day or night.

If you notice one or more signs in yourself, speak to your doctor. An early diagnosis may potentially allow for more treatment options and provides you and your family more time to consider your options for the future.

If you notice signs in a loved one, let them know you’re concerned about their health and offer to accompany them to the doctor. Be prepared that it may take repeated conversations to help someone recognize that medical intervention may be necessary. But stay alert and don’t hesitate to step in if you feel they may be a danger to themself or others.

For help addressing dementia concerns in others, visit alz.org/education.

10 Medical Problems Often Mistaken for Dementia
Several treatable conditions can cause dementia-like symptoms. Some of the most common include:
1. Alcohol abuse​
2. Stroke
3. Anxiety, depression or stress​
4. Thyroid, liver, and kidney disorders
5. Dehydration
6. Blood clots, brain infections or tumors​
7. Head injuries​
8. Urinary infection
9. Vitamin deficiencies
10. Lyme disease and other infections

Dr. Lisa J. Downing-Forget, MD, MPH practices Geriatric Primary Care at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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