Dementia is a term that describes a variety of symptoms affecting a person’s cognitive functioning. It tends to get worse over time, so there are a few key early warning signs.
Dementia occurs when nerve cells in a person’s brain stop working. It can affect their ability to think, remember, and reason.
Although it typically happens in older people, it is not an inevitable part of aging. The brain naturally deteriorates as people grow older, but this deterioration occurs more quickly in people with dementia.
Read more to learn about the different types of dementia and the early signs of the disease.
Types of dementia
- Lewy body dementia
- frontotemporal dementia
- vascular disorders
- mixed dementia, or a combination of types
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It can cause memory loss, trouble speaking, and impulsive behavior.
Usually, Alzheimer’s gets worse over time.
Some signs of Alzheimer’s include:
- difficulty making decisions
- trouble completing tasks
- personality changes
- trouble speaking
This is a rare form of dementia involving the front and sides of the brain. It can cause changes to a person’s behavior, language skills, or both.
A person with frontotemporal dementia may experience:
- personality changes
- changes in emotional reactions
- difficulty planning things
- trouble speaking
- difficulty understanding sentences
There are 10 typical early signs of dementia. For a person to receive a diagnosis, they usually have to experience two or more of these symptoms, which would be severe enough to interfere with their daily life.
These early signs of dementia include:
1. Memory loss
Memory loss is a common dementia symptom. A person with dementia may find it difficult to recall information they have recently learned, and they may rely on friends and family or other memory aids to keep track of things.
Most people forget things more frequently as they age. However, they can usually recall the information later if their memory loss is age-related and not due to dementia.
2. Difficulty planning or solving problems
A person with dementia may find it difficult to follow a plan. For example, they may have difficulty following a recipe while cooking or following directions while driving.
Problem-solving may also get more challenging, such as when adding up numbers to pay bills.
3. Difficulty doing familiar tasks
A person with dementia may find it hard to complete tasks they regularly do. For example, they may have trouble changing settings on a television, operating a computer, making a cup of tea, or getting to a familiar location.
This difficulty with familiar tasks could happen at home or work.
4. Confusion about time or place
Dementia can make it hard to judge the passing of time. People may also forget where they are, how they got there, and why.
They may find it hard to understand events in the future or the past and may struggle with dates.
5. Challenges in understanding visual information
Visual information can be difficult for a person with dementia. It can be hard to read, judge distances, or work out the differences between colors.
Someone who usually drives or cycles may start to find these activities challenging. They might get lost traveling to familiar locations.
6. Problems with speaking or writing
A person with dementia may find it hard to engage in conversations. They might forget what they are saying or what somebody else has said, and it may be challenging to enter a conversation.
People may also find that their spelling, punctuation, and grammar get worse. Sometimes, a person’s handwriting becomes more difficult to understand.
7. Tendency to misplace things
An individual with dementia may not be able to remember where they leave everyday objects, such as a TV remote control, phone, wallet, and keys. Misplacing possessions can be frustrating and may lead to a person accusing others of stealing.
8. Poor judgment or decision-making
It can be hard for someone with dementia to understand what is fair and reasonable. This may mean they pay too much for things or buy things they do not need.
Some people with dementia also pay less attention to personal hygiene or presentation.
9. Withdrawal from social activities
A person with dementia may become disinterested in socializing with other people in home life and at work.
They may become withdrawn and not talk with others or pay attention when others are speaking to them. Additionally, they might stop participating in hobbies, sports, or activities with other people.
10. Changes in personality or mood
An individual with dementia may experience mood swings or personality changes. For example, they may become irritable, depressed, fearful, or anxious.
They may also become more disinhibited or act inappropriately.
When to contact a doctor
A person who experiences any of these symptoms or notices them in a loved one should speak with a medical professional.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is a myth that cognitive functioning always worsens as a person gets older. While minor forgetfulness can be a normal part of the aging process, if symptoms start to affect a person’s everyday life, they may be serious. Signs of cognitive decline may signal dementia or another illness for which doctors can provide support.
Although there is no cure for dementia yet, a doctor can help slow the progression of the disease and ease the symptoms. This can improve a person’s quality of life.
Dementia is a chronic condition that affects a person’s brain function. The symptoms can come on gradually, and early signs can include difficulty remembering things, problems doing familiar tasks, trouble writing and speaking, and more.
If a person or their loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, they should contact a medical professional.