What are the Early Signs of Dementia?
What is dementia? Dementia is not a specific disease. Instead, it is a group of conditions identified by the deterioration of at least two brain functions. Common brain functions that are affected are memories and judgment. You may be wondering: what age does dementia start? Dementia is common in people over the age of 65, but in rare occasions, it can affect younger people between the ages of 30 and 50. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial in slowing the progression of the disease.
Early warning signs of dementia
Early warning signs of dementia include:
- Memory loss is often the first sign of dementia. If a person has become forgetful and is struggling to retain new information, this could be a cause for concern.
- Language problems such as forgetting words or using inappropriate words that don’t fit into a conversation.
- Trouble completing familiar tasks such as cooking or getting dressed. For example, a trained musician forgetting how to play an instrument they have played for decades or someone who has been driving since they were a teenager forgetting how to drive.
- Becoming disoriented. If someone becomes lost in a familiar place, such as the street where they live or forget how they arrived somewhere.
- Difficulty with abstract thinking. For example, a person might suddenly struggle with math, money or reading because they no longer understand what numbers or letters are or how they are used in society.
- Impaired judgment, meaning a person begins to make decisions that are not in their best interest or don’t make sense. For example, risky behavior or wearing seasonally inappropriate clothing (shorts and a tank top in the winter or a winter coat in the middle of summer).
- Sudden personality changes. People continue to change throughout their lives, but if someone seems to change suddenly, this could be a sign of dementia. Examples of personality change could be if they suddenly become more suspicious, withdrawn, constantly angry, lose interest in things or become reckless.
- Loss of interest in activities such as spending time with friends and family, work or other responsibilities. Granted, this is also a common symptom of depression. Combined with other symptoms on this list, this symptom may point toward dementia. A medical professional will help you figure it out.
- Misplacing things or putting items in the wrong place. This shouldn’t be confused with occasionally misplacing your keys. An example would be if someone put their curling iron in the refrigerator or their shoes in the oven.
- Unexplainable mood swings. Everyone experiences extreme emotions, but this level of mood swing usually involves sudden and extreme changes in mood without a reason attached. For example, if someone suddenly starts crying when a few seconds earlier, they were in a good mood.
Dementia is a progressive disease. The following symptoms are what caregivers can expect within each of the three stages of progression:
- Difficulty learning and remembering new information
- Struggling with planning and managing complicated activities such as managing finances that they could previously do
- Minimizing their memory trouble or not having awareness of it
- Severe trouble with forgetfulness
- Less consistent with hygiene
- More trouble finding words
- Significantly reduced motivation and doing a lot less during the day
- Deferring more to family around decisions or being very resistant to help
- Extensive memory loss
- Limited mobility
- Loss of appetite and possibly trouble swallowing
- Bowel and bladder control issues
- Difficulty recognizing family members and caregivers
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, with a new diagnosis every 67 seconds in the United States. There are also other types of dementia that fall under this umbrella category, including:
- Vascular dementia – Changes in thinking skills sometimes occur suddenly after a stroke, which blocks major blood vessels in the brain.
- Lewy body dementia – Abnormal microscopic deposits that damage brain cells over time, leading to a decline in thinking, reasoning and independent function.
- Frontotemporal dementia – Caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain's frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind your ears).
Medications and therapies may help manage symptoms of dementia. If you believe that you or a loved one might be suffering from dementia, it is important to see a healthcare provider to address your concerns.
Learn more about Latoya Cameron, NP and Neurology at Ochsner Health.