If You Ask This a Lot, It Could Be an Early Sign of Dementia, Doctors Say
Not being able to remember this might be a red flag for the onset of cognitive decline.
The body becomes different in many ways as we age, but the brain also undergoes its fair share of changes. One of the most concerning is the possible onset of cognitive decline, which can show its beginning phases in various ways in your later years. But doctors say that if you have to ask one question regularly, it could be an early sign of dementia. Read on to see which red flag you should be on the lookout for.
Having to ask "what day is it?" often may be an early sign of dementia.
Life during pandemic lockdowns and working from home may have made the idea of calendar days seem strange and foreign for a moment. But according to doctors, often being confused about what day it is could also be an early sign of dementia.
"Once upon a time, forgetting the date ("Is it the 5th or the 6th?") was a sensitive sign [of cognitive decline], but the habit is fading as smartphones and computers replace the need to keep track of dates," Jason Karlawish, MD, a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy, and neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, wrote for AARP. "[But a] cause for concern is forgetting the day of the week (asking on a Friday, 'Is today Monday or Tuesday?')."
Forgetting what time of day or missing appointments can also be an early sign.
Other experts point out that since those who are experiencing memory lapses may not recall instances of forgetfulness, it can often culminate when basic responsibilities are affected. According to Sevil Yasar, MD, PhD, a geriatrician and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, forgetting the time of day or how much time is passing is a strong indicator of dementia's onset.
Yasar also points out that being unable to remember appointments or missing them even though they've marked them in a calendar or received numerous reminders by friends or family is a warning sign.
A doctor's visit is required to establish what medical issue is causing the changes in memory.
For some, forgetting the day of the week and then remembering it could actually be a sign of cognitive aging, which Karlawish describes as "the cognitive changes experienced after adult development ends, typically after 50 years of age" who have not previously shown signs of dementia. "Cognitive aging is highly variable. Some people experience it; others don't. It typically includes declines in our ability to find words and remember and to think through new information, especially under pressures of time or emotion," Karlawish said.
But according to Karlawish, there are different types of cognitive decline. Mild cognitive impairment—which is often referred to as "MCI"—describes a "milder set of measurable cognitive changes" that most people can manage through, despite some changes to how long or precise they can be while doing then. But since Alzheimer's disease can possibly cause it, MCI presents a different medical need. Repeated warning signs warrant a trip to the doctor to help properly diagnose the issue and coordinate any lifestyle changes or needs.
Craving sweets can also be an early sign of dementia.
But it's not just mixing up the calendar that can be an early sign of dementia. According to Andrew E. Budson, MD, associate director for research at the Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center and a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, craving sweets can be an early sign of one type of cognitive decline known as frontotemporal dementia (FTD). He explained to Psychology Today that this particular form of dementia "often exhibits changes in food preferences, such as the desire to eat sweet foods."
Budson cited a story he heard in a support group for the caregivers of dementia patients, which included this bizarre symptom. "He began to eat things—like a tub of ice cream or a whole box of cookies—in bed while I was trying to sleep," one woman told the group of her husband, who was later diagnosed with FTD. She also shared that he would eat "a box of cake mix, a tin of frosting," and other sweet items that would not typically appeal to him.
The stories also appear to be backed by research: A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients with FTD eat more sugar and carbohydrates—and are more likely to experience rapid weight gain—than those without neurodegeneration.