10 Early Signs of Dementia: When to be Concerned?

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By Melissa Lee

Last updated February 17, 2023

Because dementia affects each individual differently, it can be difficult to pinpoint the first symptoms of dementia. However, there are some general early warning signs of frontotemporal dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of dementia that you can watch out for as a caregiver or for yourself. Some changes in habits over time may be a normal part of life, so it’s important to distinguish between signs of aging and signs of dementia.

Key Takeaways

  1. Early signs of dementia may be subtle. You can still watch for early warning signs of dementia though in your loved one.
  2. Start tracking symptoms. If your loved one starts to get lost in familiar areas, struggles to keep track of time, and experiences general forgetfulness, track these symptoms.
  3. Seek medical evaluation. It’s virtually impossible to diagnose dementia without the help of medical professionals.
  4. Talk to an expert. After a dementia diagnosis, new challenges may arise. If you can no longer care for your loved one alone, you may want to consider home care or memory care.

What are the early stages of dementia?

Dementia typically has seven stages, with stage 1 indicating no cognitive impairment and stage 7 showing very severe cognitive decline. The beginning stages of dementia may not be noticeable to a patient, their family, or their medical team. It can be difficult to pinpoint an exact time or a first symptom during the initial stages of dementia.

The beginning of symptoms of dementia usually start slowly as brain changes occur over time. The accumulation of symptoms through time leads to gradually noticeable changes in the person with dementia.

What are the 10 warning signs of dementia?

While older people may have memory lapses or declining abilities, some of these issues can be considered a usual part of aging. However, some changes may be signs of early dementia in the 50s and beyond.

You can watch your loved one for the following 10 warning signs of dementia in women and in men [01]:

  1. Behavior changes. You may observe your loved one exhibiting signs of poor judgment or having moments of confusion. You might notice them beginning to act impulsively. In addition, instances of uncharacteristic agitation or violent actions may be signs of dementia anger.
  2. Delusions and hallucinations. You may notice them speaking to someone who isn’t there or having bouts of paranoia that are unfounded in reality.
  3. Difficulty completing normal tasks. Your loved one may find it challenging or excessively time consuming to complete everyday tasks that they previously completed with ease. This may be because of thinking problems or the physical signs of dementia, like mobility loss.
  4. Language difficulties. Your loved one may start having trouble finding words for familiar items. They may also have a hard time following your conversations or struggle to express their thoughts. Frequently repeating words may also be a sign of dementia.
  5. Memory loss. You may notice your loved one starting to forget events that only happened moments ago. Or, it may become difficult for your loved one to recall memories from their past. For example, forgetting the names of people close to them may be a sign of dementia.
  6. Money challenges. You may notice your loved one forgetting to pay bills, struggling to budget money, or spending in an uncharacteristic manner.
  7. Reading struggles. If your loved one cherishes diving into books or reading the newspaper, you may notice them reading less often. And, when they do read, they may take longer to complete a page, and they may seem frustrated.
  8. Social difficulties. Your loved one may make insensitive or inappropriate comments. They may also begin to no longer care about the feelings of others.
  9. Way finding challenges. Your loved one may start getting lost driving or walking in familiar surroundings. They may also begin misplacing objects in their home. Leaving cupboard doors open may be a sign of dementia, especially when they never did so before.
  10. Withdrawing from interests. An engaged senior may participate in many activities and social events in their community. However, you may notice your loved one shying away from these beloved engagements.

To further understand your loved one’s situation at home, you can download or print out the 10 Early Signs of Dementia Checklist and work through it with your loved one, your family members, and your loved one’s medical care team.

What are some signs of dementia by type?

Different types of dementia may present differently. Review the beginning signs of dementia across these most common forms :

Alzheimer’s disease

As the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60% to 80% of dementia cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).[02] It results from changes in the brain related to an accumulation of plaques.[03]

The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is typically trouble remembering recent events.[02]

However, as the disease progresses, symptoms may include the following, as well [03]:

  • difficulty remembering cherished memories
  • inability to perform activities of daily living independently
  • mobility issues
  • personality changes

Frontotemporal dementia

Sometimes referred to as frontotemporal disorders, this type of dementia occurs when damage happens to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia typically include the following [04]:

  • Behavior changes, including acting impulsively, becoming disinterested in socialization, and doing inappropriate things
  • Cognitive changes, including difficulty planning activities and making decisions, as well as repetition, such as saying the same word or telling the same story again and again
  • Communication challenges, such as problems with understanding and speaking words
  • Movement issues, such as inability to use hands for normal movement or muscle rigidity

Lewy body dementia

This term refers to two types of dementia: Dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease dementia. How symptoms appear varies greatly, which makes it a challenge to identify beginning symptoms. Patients with Lewy body dementia may notice any of the following symptoms [05]:

  • Cognitive issues and noticeable decline, including hallucinations and disorganized thinking
  • Movement challenges, such as loss of coordination, muscle rigidity, and tremors
  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Significant mood changes, including depression, anxiety, or paranoia

Mixed dementia

Sometimes a patient may have more than one type of dementia, which is typically referred to as mixed dementia. The very nature of having more than one type makes it difficult to even identify the beginning of dementia. In some cases, symptoms may mimic those of Alzheimer’s disease or of vascular dementia.[06]

Vascular dementia

This disease can have a gradual or rapid onset. Any of the following symptoms may be early warning signs [07]:

  • Becoming lost in familiar places or misplacing items
  • Changes in behavior, including mood and personality changes
  • Communication issues, including difficulty with reading, writing, and finding the correct word
  • Difficulty learning or following directions
  • Forgetting memories, both recent and in the distant past
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Inability to perceive danger or make reasonable decisions
  • Sleep pattern changes

Do early dementia symptoms in women and men differ?

From research over the last three decades, it appears that women and men may face different risks for different types of dementia.[08] However, it’s important to understand that brain-related research remains largely in its infancy.

Men may face an increased risk or incidence of the following types of dementia, according to research through the University of Pennsylvania [09]:

  • Frontotemporal dementia may occur more often in males. Some evidence shows a three-to-nearly-five-times greater incidence in males than in females.
  • Lewy body dementia may occur more often in males. One study suggested that it occurs almost four times as often in males than females.
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia appears to have a two-to-one male-to-female ratio in the world population.
  • Mixed dementias and vascular dementia appear to occur more often in males. Research suggests that these occur at rates of 31% in males in comparison to 25% in females.

Meanwhile, the same University of Pennsylvania research showed that women may be at a nearly twofold increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Research conclusions do vary, though: In one study, the suggested incidence rate of Alzheimer’s disease in people between 65 and 100 years old is 28.1% in women versus 25.5% in men.[10]

What age does dementia start?

While it can vary by individual, the average dementia onset age in the U.S. is estimated to be 83.7 years old.[11]Though, the dementia age range varies greatly, with people diagnosed with dementia as early as their 20s.[12]

Early onset dementia

Younger people are more aware of dementia risks and signs, and more are beginning to ask at what age you can get dementia. This type of dementia, sometimes referred to as young-onset dementia, means a person has dementia prior to turning 65 years old.[13] The signs and symptoms of early onset dementia are similar to the signs of dementia in elderly people.

Do I have dementia?

After learning more about 10 signs of dementia, you may be wondering if you or your loved one have dementia. You can track the potential onset of dementia symptoms at home. If you notice that your loved one is showing the signs of dementia onset, strive to approach them from a place of love and compassion. Guide them to a medical professional for further evaluation. Keep in mind that while there is no cure for dementia at this time, early detection is helpful for slowing decline and protecting quality of life.

Your loved one may ask you to accompany them to their dementia evaluation. It’s important to be prepared to talk to your loved one’s medical care team by doing the following:

  • Bring a list of the onset of dementia symptoms
  • Take notes at the appointment
  • Ask about follow-up steps and care instructions

If your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, take time to reflect and find peace before making any significant changes. Depending on your loved one’s stage of dementia, they may be able to live at home until their disease progresses further.

While a dementia diagnosis may feel overwhelming, the Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom offer free consultations to help you find in-home care or senior living options that may fit your loved one’s unique memory care needs when the time comes.

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