If You Lose This Feeling, It May Be an Early Sign of Dementia, Study Says

It's a direct result of how the condition affects parts of your brain.

The earliest signs of dementia may not necessarily show up as the kinds of symptoms you might expect. In fact, some red flags that may present themselves when the condition first begins to develop can sometimes be mistaken for another ailment. But according to a study, it may be an early sign of dementia if you lose this one feeling. Read on to see which symptom you should be aware of.

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A profound loss of feeling pleasure could be an early sign of dementia.

A senior woman sits at a table in front of a coffee while holding her head with a distressed look on her face

The next time you find yourself not taking joy in life's simple pleasures, such as your favorite meal or a beautiful song, take note. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Sydney in Australia, losing the feeling of pleasure or joy could be an early warning sign of early-onset frontotemporal dementia (FTD).

Deterioration of the brain's "pleasure center" can cause the condition, which is called anhedonia.

Brain disease diagnosis with medical doctor diagnosing elderly ageing patient neurodegenerative illness problem seeing Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) film for neurological medical treatment

The research, which was published in April in the journal Brain, used neuroimaging to scan the brains of 121 patients who were experiencing some form of cognitive decline. The team discovered that patients suffering from FTD had profound anhedonia—which is the clinical term for the lack of ability to experience pleasure—that they believe is related to a deterioration of grey matter in the "pleasure system" areas of the brain. This differed from patients with Alzheimer's disease, whose brain images did not show the same deterioration.

"Much of human experience is motivated by the drive to experience pleasure, but we often take this capacity for granted," Muireann Irish, PhD, a neuroscientist from the University of Sydney and the study's senior author, said in a statement. "But consider what it might be like to lose the capacity to enjoy the simple pleasures of life – this has stark implications for the wellbeing of people affected by these neurodegenerative disorders."

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Anhedonia can sometimes be misdiagnosed as other conditions.


The researchers point out that anhedonia is often seen in patients with bipolar disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, often leading to misdiagnoses of early-onset dementia as depression. Researchers say this could help make doctors aware of anhedonia as a potential signal that FTD is setting in, which typically starts between the ages of 40 and 65.

"Our findings also reflect the workings of a complex network of regions in the brain, signaling potential treatments," Irish said in the statement. "Future studies will be essential to address the impact of anhedonia on everyday activities, and to inform the development of targeted interventions to improve quality of life in patients and their families."

Early-onset dementia can also give other warning signs.

old man with money

But it's not just losing the feeling of pleasure that can tip you off to the early phases of dementia: it can also show itself as suddenly odd spending habits, money mismanagement, forgetting large purchases, and missing bill payments.

"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," vice president for care and support at the Alzheimer's Association Beth Kallmyer told The New York Times. She explained that dementia can rob people of the "executive function" skills that help them manage money, such as planning, problem-solving, memory, and comprehending context.

In fact, several studies have connected financial decision-making and the onset of dementia. One study published in 2019 in Health Economic found that people experiencing early-stage Alzheimer's were 27 percent more likely than cognitively healthy people to have a significant decline in their assets, including savings, checking, stocks, and bonds.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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