10 Early Warning Signs of Dementia Experts Want You to Know
Consult a doctor if you or a loved one experience any of these early signs and symptoms.
As you get older, just as your physical body starts to slow down and become less able to perform the way it did in your younger years, so too does your mind. Memories may become a bit foggier, recall may become a bit slower, and you may notice you're generally not as mentally sharp as you once were. Oftentimes this is perfectly normal—a natural part of the aging process. However, frequent and pronounced inability to remember things or perform easy tasks may be a sign of dementia, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines as the "impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities." Read on to discover the other early dementia warning signs that doctors, researchers, and other experts want you to know.
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Disruptive memory loss or forgetfulness
While 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, that doesn't mean they should be happening all the time. If you're frequently forgetting appointments, repeating yourself, unable to retrace your steps, or need constant reminders, this could be an early sign of dementia.
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Confusion about time and place
If you are having trouble remembering how you got to a place or why you are there or are regularly forgetting what day of the week it is, you should consult a doctor immediately. That's because confusion about time and place are classic early signs of dementia, Jason Karlawish, MD, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine and co-director of the Penn Memory Center, told AARP.
Problems managing money
According to an interview with Prevention magazine, Elise Caccappolo, PhD, an associate professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, one of the first things she discusses with her patients is the managing of their finances.
Caccappolo says that people with dementia frequently have trouble with abstract thinking, like math, and are unable to follow the steps to do a task like paying a bill. They may do things like try to pay a bill twice or make mistakes when balancing their checkbook.
Losing interest in reading
According to Caccappolo, if a person once loved to read but has noticeably lost interest in it, that may be a sign of dementia.
"In cognitive evaluations, I always ask, 'Are you reading as much as you always did?'" Caccappolo told Prevention. "A lot of people will say they can only read short articles now—it's especially noticeable with people who were really avid readers."
Low blood pressure
If you ever feel dizzy when standing up, this could be due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, which, according to a 2020 study published in the journal Neurology, is associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Researchers examined 2,131 older patients with an average age of 73 to find that 15 percent had some form of low blood pressure. Specifically, results found that nine percent of participants had systolic orthostatic hypotension—which refers to the top or first number in a reading that measures the pressure each heartbeat applies to artery walls—while six percent had diastolic orthostatic hypotension.
The patients were then monitored for 12 years for any form of cognitive decline. After adjusting for dementia risks such as diabetes, smoking, and alcohol use, researchers determined that patients with systolic orthostatic hypotension were 37 percent more likely to develop dementia than those without low blood pressure.
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Problems with language
If you find yourself forgetting frequently used words or using the wrong words when trying to communicate, this may be a sign of dementia.
According to Alzheimer Society: "Anyone can have trouble finding the right word to express what they want to say. However, a person living with dementia may forget simple words or may substitute words such that what they are saying is difficult to understand."
Subtle and gradual personality changes are often a perfectly normal part of the aging process, but pronounced and sudden mood swings or erratic behavior may be a sign of something more serious like Alzheimer's, one of the most common forms of dementia.
"Individuals living with Alzheimer's may experience mood and personality changes," according to experts at the Alzheimer's Association. "They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends or when out of their comfort zone."
Some people are better with directions than others, but whether or not you are one of them, if you suddenly find yourself frequently getting lost while driving—especially in familiar areas—this could be a serious sign of cognitive decline.
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the main symptoms of dementia is having problems with your visual and spatial abilities, particularly something like getting lost while driving.
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Not laughing at the right time
According to a 2017 study, if someone isn't laughing during appropriate points in a conversation or laughs at the wrong time, it could be an early sign of dementia. Researchers found that patients diagnosed with dementia noticeably laughed at different times during natural social interactions than their healthy family members.
According to a recent study, an increased feeling of apathy—or a lack of motivation, interest, or investment—is positively associated with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and some of its worst outcomes. These include "functional decline, decreased quality of life, loss of independence, and poorer survival," according to Maura Malpetti, a co-author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Cambridge.
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