If You Notice This While Talking, It May Be an Early Sign of Dementia

Experts say one of the earliest symptoms can be seen in how you communicate.

There's a fine line between standard cognitive decline as you age and dementia. And because dementia typically progresses slowly over a long period of time, it can be tough to diagnose, which is why it's important to know the full range of potential symptoms. Experts say some of the earliest signs of dementia can be seen through an activity we do every single day: talking. Changes in the way you communicate can easily reflect an unusual loss of cognitive functioning. Read on to find out which early dementia sign you should look out for while you're speaking.

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If you find yourself substituting the wrong word for things, it may be a sign of dementia.

Confused senior man shows something on a smartphone to female friend.

We all slip up sometimes when trying to remember the right word for something. But Maree Farrow, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist with the University of Tasmania's Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, told Australia's ABC News that people with dementia end up repeatedly having difficulty finding the right word to use. Instead, they often end up substituting the wrong word for things, whether knowingly or without even realizing it.

"They're not so much making it up, it's just that when they're trying to retrieve the word, the wrong word comes out," Farrow said. For example, she said that people with dementia might mean to say something like "get the potatoes," but then end up saying "get the apples."

This could be one of the earliest signs in some types of dementia.

senior woman gets attention - hand on shoulder

With some types of dementia, language problems may be one of the first noticeable symptoms. Two major forms of dementia, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and Alzheimer's disease, can cause language impairment in the form of primary progressive aphasia (PPA). PPA occurs when there is damage to the temporal lobes, per the Alzheimer's Society. And this can affect language because a "key function of the left temporal lobe is to store the meanings of words and the names of objects," the Alzheimer's Society explains.

The organization says difficulties with language—like substituting the wrong word—will be the first noticeable symptom for a person with PPA. According to Northwestern Medicine, 3o to 40 percent of people who have PPA get it from Alzheimer's disease, while 60 to 70 percent of PPA cases are the result of FTD.

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You may notice other language problems if you have dementia.

Advisor helping a senior woman at home (or mother and son)

Sometimes having trouble finding the right word to use is a normal age-related memory change, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But if you're dealing with some form of dementia, you'll likely experience other language problems, too. The Alzheimer's Society says people with dementia may not only have difficulty finding the right words to use, but also use words that have no meaning or are jumbled up in the wrong order. And if a person speaks a second language, they may forget it and go back to speaking the first language they learned as a child.

"There may eventually come a time when the person can no longer communicate as they once did," the organization explains.

Millions of people in the U.S. have some form of dementia.

doctor talking and explaining test result and diagnosis to demoralized elderly patient in hospital hallway

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were at least 5 million adults 65 years or older diagnosed with dementia by 2014. That number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia among U.S. adults, with the CDC reporting that around 6.2 million people in the country are estimated to be living with Alzheimer's disease in 2021. FTD, on the other hand, is the most common form of dementia for people under 60, and it affects nearly 60,000 people each year, per the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration.

RELATED: 91 Percent of Older Adults With Dementia Have This in Common, Research Says.

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