The CDC Says These Are the Early Signs of Dementia You Need to Know
Could your memory loss be something serious? These indicators mean you should see a doctor.
While getting older can sometimes mean that we feel like our minds are slowing down a little, it's important to distinguish between normal mild memory loss and something that warrants a more serious investigation. Regular changes to the brain might mean that we sometimes do trivial, but irritating things—like occasionally misplacing car keys, struggling to think of the right word immediately, or forgetting someone's name, for example. But these slip-ups aren't a particular cause for concern. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that there are 10 early warning signs you should be on the lookout for that may indicate your memory loss could be dementia.
Those who experience one or more of the following symptoms on the CDC's checklist should talk to a doctor and seek treatment, the agency says. Early diagnosis helps with both management of dementia and planning for the future. Read on to see the CDC's list of early warning signs you need to know.
Memory loss that disrupts your daily life
If you find yourself forgetting appointments or events, repeating yourself often, or needing sticky notes or phone reminders in order to keep the basics of your day-to-day life in order, the CDC says that's a sign you should see your MD.
Jeffrey Keller, PhD, founder and director of the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, told the American Heart Association (AHA) that most of us experience some memory lapses as we age. However, if you're unable to retrace your steps or retain information, that signals a bigger problem.
Challenges with planning and finances
One of the earliest signs of dementia can show up in your spending habits, the CDC says.
"It's not uncommon at all for us to hear that one of the first signs that families become aware of is around a person's financial dealings," Beth Kallmyer, vice president for care and support at the Alzheimer's Association, told The New York Times. Some people with early dementia might make large purchases that they forget about until they get the bill, while others could be missing payments altogether.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks
The CDC warns people to be on the lookout for sudden problems "with cooking, driving places, using a cell phone, or shopping."
The Alzheimer's Association advises that while having "trouble driving to a familiar location, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a favorite game" could be signs of dementia, you shouldn't immediately jump to the worst conclusion if a few tasks prove to be tricky as you age. "Occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show" are what they describe as "a typical age-related change" and are not a cause for concern.
Confusion with time or place
According to the CDC, "having trouble understanding an event that is happening later, or losing track of dates" is one of the classic warning signs of dementia, specifically Alzheimer's disease (AD). "The real issue with AD is perception of time," Lisa P. Gwyther, MSW, LCSW, co-author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan: A Family Guide, told CBS News. "Five minutes can seem like five hours for someone with AD, so a husband may think his wife has been gone for hours or even weeks, even if it's just been a few minutes, or he might tell his grandchild that he hasn't seen him in five years, even though he just saw them yesterday."
Trouble with visual or spacial judgment
If you can't balance or judge distance, find yourself tripping at home, or you're spilling drinks or dropping items more often than usual, the CDC says these are all possible red flags of dementia. The condition causes nerve cell death and tissue loss throughout the entire brain—and eventually, as the condition advances, the brain shrinks dramatically, which impedes upon your regular everyday functions.
Difficulty finding words or repeating yourself
Having trouble holding conversations or struggling to find a word in your mind are other early dementia signs of note. As a specific example, the CDC says calling a watch "that thing on your wrist that tells time" can be an indicator that something isn't right.
The Alzheimer's Association adds that people with the disease "may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves."
Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace your steps
If you're suddenly placing car keys in the washer or dryer, there may be something amiss that needs further medical attention.
Similarly, people with dementia may hoard things or hide them in usual places. However, the Alzheimer's Society of the U.K. points out that there may be some logic to this behavior, which may seem odd to an outsider. "Hiding and hoarding may be an attempt by the person to have some control of their situation," they suggest. "The person may also feel paranoid or have delusions and believe their things will get stolen, so they may try to hide or protect them."
Decreased or poor judgment
Becoming a victim of a scam, paying less attention to your personal hygiene, or forgetting to take care of a pet are all warning signs that a person's judgement is decreasing, another dementia indicator. A 2019 academic study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine specifically looked at whether being likely to fall for scams could be used as a predictor for dementia. The researchers concluded that "low scam awareness among older persons is a harbinger of adverse cognitive outcomes and is associated with Alzheimer disease pathology in the brain."
Becoming withdrawn from work or social activities
"Not wanting to go to church or other activities as you usually do, not being able to follow football games, or keep up with what's happening" are all listed by the CDC as potential early signs of dementia.
The experts at the Social Care Institute for Excellence in the U.K. warn that it's not as simple as the condition triggering this behavior physically either. "A person with dementia may become withdrawn because of a loss of abilities caused by dementia. For example, if verbal communication becomes too much of a struggle, a person may give up on trying to communicate," they write. But they add that "a person with dementia is much more likely to become withdrawn because they feel isolated or bored," pointing out that depression may also be an issue.
Changes in mood and personality
The CDC warns that "getting easily upset in common situations or being fearful or suspicious" is another sign of dementia. Johnson & Johnson's guide to dementia symptoms notes that while becoming easily agitated or fearful can be indicators of the disease, "alternatively, a person with dementia may show less emotion than s/he used to do previously."