10 Early Signs of Dementia You Should Never Ignore

10 Early Signs of Dementia You Should Never Ignore

What if you had warning signs of something serious going wrong with your body or your mind? Studies have shown that getting prompt medical treatment for any condition can lead to a better outcome. That’s especially true with seniors and the elderly, which is why an emergency button alarm is always a great idea. By pressing the button to get help right away, anyone with a medical emergency can avoid long waiting times for assistance to arrive.


And that same concept holds true for those suffering from dementia. Though there is no cure for dementia, early awareness about the challenges that are coming can help you and your loved ones find the right treatments and plans as soon as possible.


Dementia isn’t one specific disease. Rather, it’s a variety of symptoms that come from different issues in the brain. Dementia includes memory loss severe enough to affect your day-to-day life, eventually necessitating constant care for the activities of daily living.


When someone needs constant monitoring, things like a personal alert system for elderly adults can help a great deal. But it’s always good to know ahead of time if you will need extra care, so that you can prepare for that and not have to rush or worry when the time comes that the care is needed but not in place. Knowing the early signs of dementia can help a family to prepare and organize long-term plans.


The Early Signs of Dementia


According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia diagnosed across the globe every year. It is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among seniors and the elderly.1


Here are the signs to watch out for:


1. Familiar Tasks are More Difficult

You’re driving to your favorite park and suddenly, you’re lost. You knew the route so well that you haven’t used a GPS to get to it in years, but you are now on streets that look completely foreign. Or maybe you are preparing a meal you know as well as the back of your hand, but you go completely blank when it comes to taking the next step in the memorized recipe. Or perhaps you’re beating your grandkids so badly at Monopoly that it’s almost shameful, when suddenly you forget how to buy a property.


These problems indicate issues with executive functioning, which helps you handle complex day-to-day tasks. The signs of dementia show up first when it comes to the complex things, such as a difficult recipe or driving somewhere. It might also show up when you are doing something unfamiliar – you might find yourself frustrated that you can’t learn something new that you know, deep down, should be easy for you.


2. You Lose Your Words


Who hasn’t had that moment when a word was right there, right on the tip of your tongue? It’s floating in the ether and your mind just can’t quite reach it. That happens to everyone from time to time, no matter the age.


But when you get older, losing your words can mean a bit more than a momentary lapse. Struggles with vocabulary, such as substituting words or forgetting simple words, might happen more frequently. Your brain fills in the blanks as best it can; for instance, you might call a fan a “wind thing” or dig back into nostalgia and call a refrigerator an “ice box.”


3. You Misplace Things in Odd Places


It’s one thing to lose your keys and tear the house apart looking for them, only to discover that you left them in the pocket of the pants you wore yesterday. Just like losing a word now and then, misplacing the keys happens to all of us. Or maybe it’s a cell phone, or your shopping list, or even your medical alert pendant… oops!


But if you notice you are putting things where they simply don’t make sense, such as putting your cell phone in the freezer (definitely not recommended) or stashing the TV remote in the bathroom cabinet, there might be a problem brewing. Putting things in odd places is an early sign of dementia.


4. Your Memory Seems Odd

Those with dementia often have difficulties with memory that don’t seem to make sense. They can often recall with great clarity something that happened 40 years ago but can’t tell you what they had for breakfast this morning. And as time goes on, they have more difficulty establishing those long-term memories, too. According to Cambridge University Press, it all happens because of changes in the hippocampal region of the brain, where learning and memory reside.2

If you notice that your short-term memory is getting worse but you can still clearly recall things from your childhood, it might be time to talk to your doctor.

5. You Get Lost

This might refer to actually getting lost, such as losing track of your physical place in the world. Perhaps you go to the grocery store but before you know it, you’re in the next town over and you have no idea how you got there or how to get back home. If you happen to have a medical alert device handy, you can get out of that situation very quickly with a button press that connects you to a live, 24/7 monitoring center – but there’s no doubt that what happened will leave you shaken up.

There are other ways to get lost, too. You might forget what day of the week it is, what season it is, or what year it is. You might believe it is morning when it’s actually late afternoon and then you wonder where the time went. This sort of disorientation in time and space is an early sign of dementia.

6. You Repeat Yourself

Everyone repeats themselves sometimes. Your sister might roll her eyes at you while you tell the same story you told a few weeks ago, or your spouse might chuckle when you tell them the story – again – about the time you did that crazy thing back in college. But when you start continually repeating yourself and don’t realize it’s happening, or you begin to repeat words or phrases in the same conversation, something might be wrong.

But it’s not just verbal repetition to watch out for. It might also be daily tasks. For instance, vacuuming the floor after you just did it an hour ago, or going to fill the dog’s bowl only to realize you did that quite recently are repetitions that might signal a problem.

7. You Get Moody – Really Moody

It’s one thing to get annoyed by the guy who cut you off in traffic. It’s quite another to explode with anger and carry that negative energy with you – until it’s like a switch flips and you’re happy, sunny, and optimistic again. Those with dementia might experience very sudden and drastic mood swings, from crying one minute to over-the-moon happy the next.

Anxiety and depression are also common symptoms of dementia, though there’s always the chicken-and-egg question: Does the anxiety and depression come as part of the changes in the brain that cause dementia, or are they a natural response to suspecting you might have dementia? Either way, it’s a good reason to talk to your doctor. 

8. You Do Things Completely Out of Character

Sometimes the family of someone with dementia can look back on the out-of-character things that a person did and recognize it as an early warning sign. The frugal man who suddenly maxes out his credit cards, the kind woman who is suddenly cruel to the people she loves, or the loyal spouse who decides overnight that they want a divorce – these could all be signs of something changing in the brain.

But there might also be changes that aren’t so dramatic but still set off alarm bells. For instance, dressing in a sweater on a hot summer day or ignoring that very obvious leak under the sink while water covers the floor are lapses in judgment and reasoning that could indicate a problem.

9. You Avoid Socializing

Did you once enjoy spending free time with friends and family? Were you going to workplace events, family functions, and taking up friends on their invites to lunch or dinner? Were you active in online forums, local community initiatives, and volunteer work? If those things suddenly dwindle down to nothing, that might signify a problem.

Avoiding the social scene could also be a result of depression, anxiety, or even apathy. A loss of initiative can also be an early symptom of dementia. In fact, a review in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics says up to 76% of those with Alzheimer’s feel apathy.3

If you just don’t feel up to doing anything and are emotionally “flat,” it’s time to talk to your doctor.

10. You Don’t Seem Like the Same Person

Personality changes are one of the biggest problems in the early stages of dementia. Not only does this include issues with reason and judgment, but might also include being suspicious of everyone, feeling paranoid, being suddenly shy when you were once outgoing, or being confused by things around you. You might feel that the world is moving “too fast” and you can’t keep up.

While personality certainly changes over time, those who have dementia will often experience a personality change that is quite sudden and severe. If you’ve heard friends and family express surprise at how you are acting lately, reach out for help.

If you notice any of the symptoms listed above in yourself or a loved one, don’t write them off as simply the signs of aging. Talk to a doctor and get the tests you need to let you know what’s going on.