If Your Mouth Feels Like This, It Could Signal the Onset of Dementia
This pesky symptom may be a warning that something is very wrong.
When we think of our dental health, the first thing that comes to mind might be a dazzling smile and fresh breath (although some conditions can cause bad breath regardless of how thoroughly you brush and floss). But good oral hygiene is connected to our overall wellness in many different ways. For example, while we might not automatically connect our mouths to our brain or heart health, research shows that brushing and flossing can reduce your risk of dementia—and poor oral hygiene is also linked with higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Not only does our oral health affect other areas of our bodies, our mouths can actually send us warning signs about myriad health problems, ranging from oral cancer to hypertension. And a particular feeling in your mouth can be one of the first indicators of dementia. Read on to find out what to watch out for—and why it happens.
Some warning signs of dementia are more commonly known than others.
Dementia—an umbrella term for various conditions that affect our cognitive health, such as Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia—isn't just prevalent, it's on the rise. According to Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI), someone develops dementia approximately every three seconds; 55 million people around the world were living with dementia in 2020, with that number projected to reach 78 million people in just a decade.
"Increasing age is the biggest known risk factor for dementia," reports Healthline. "The majority of people with dementia are over the age of 65, and the risk of this condition increases as you get older." However, "in some cases, it can also affect people in their 30s, 40s, or 50s," they write.
Dementia comes with plenty of warning signs, but some are better known than others.
READ THIS NEXT: Drinking This Popular Beverage Slashes Dementia Risk, New Study Says.
Dry mouth can be an early indicator of dementia.
While there is no cure for dementia, early detection is still important. "With treatment and early diagnosis, you may be able to slow down the progression of dementia and maintain mental function for a longer period of time," says Healthline. "The treatments may include medications, cognitive training, and therapy."
Some early symptoms of dementia can occur years before the person is actually diagnosed. And unlike memory loss and confusion, dry mouth is a potential indicator that's not a commonly known symptom of cognitive decline.
"Although dry mouth is not one of the most common first signs of dementia, it can be one of the first indicators," says Raymond Dacillo, Director of Operations for C-Care Health Services. "In the beginning stages, remembering to do trivial tasks like drinking water can be challenging for those with dementia, especially if the condition hasn't been diagnosed yet." Dacillo adds that "lack of hydration can cause [lessened] saliva production, leading to dry mouth."
For more health news sent directly to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Older adults are at a greater risk of dehydration.
As people age—regardless of whether or not they are experiencing cognitive decline—they have a higher risk of dehydration. The Mayo Clinic attributes this to a decrease in the body's fluid reserve and the ability to conserve water, as well as their sense of needing fluids. "These problems are compounded by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia, and by the use of certain medications," says the site. "Older adults also may have mobility problems that limit their ability to obtain water for themselves."
Heather Mulder, the outreach program manager at Banner Health Alzheimer's Institute, explains on Banner's website that people with cognitive decline may have an even higher risk of dehydration. "Increased confusion and/or a change in usual behavior are the first signs that someone with dementia may be dehydrated," says Mulder. "Additional behavior changes associated with inadequate fluid intake include weakness, fatigue, agitation, muscle cramping in the arms and legs, nausea and dizziness."
Dementia and dehydration are more linked than people may realize.
"During the early stages of dementia, a person may simply forget to drink because they are less sensitive to thirst and/or cannot recall when they last took a drink," says Mulder, adding that "Those with moderate dementia often have difficulty remembering the mechanics of how to drink, such as turning on the faucet, where the glasses are stored, or even how to get fluid into a glass."
Not only can dry mouth be a possible early symptom of dementia, but if it is indicating dehydration, there could be serious complications such as kidney problems, seizures, heatstroke, and even hypovolemic shock, according to Healthline, which recommends keeping fluids accessible, eating foods with a high water content, and taking small sips of fluid frequently to the appropriate daily water intake, if the person is unable to drink larger quantities.