Spotting the Early Signs of Dementia

Early signs of dementia

You hear the term “dementia” used in different contexts, but do you know what it really means? Dementia isn’t a disease per se. It’s a term for the symptoms of cognitive impairment when the brain’s ability to think, reason and remember negatively affects daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause, accounting for 60%-80% of dementia cases.

What are the early signs of dementia?
Many people assume dementia is a normal part of aging, but it isn’t. Dementia is a result of damage to brain cells caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Early signs of dementia may be slight at first as the brain’s ability slowly declines. This can make it difficult to distinguish the signs of dementia from the normal forgetfulness a loved one experiences with age.  

Early signs of dementia checklist
Maybe your loved one has misplaced their keys, forgotten a name, or asked you, “What day is it today?” But when these behaviors veer out of the ordinary, it could be the first signs of dementia. Here are broad descriptions that compare normal behaviors with behaviors that may be signs of early onset dementia. (Source: Alzheimer’s Association)

1.  Forgetfulness
It’s normal for a loved one to sometimes forget names and appointments but recall them later. It’s not normal for them to forget recently learned information, important dates or events, or ask the same questions over and over again. When someone is increasingly reliant on memory aids or other people to remember what they used to handle on their own, it’s a cause for concern.

2. Inability to Follow a Plan
Making occasional mistakes when managing money or household bills is normal. It’s not normal for someone to have trouble concentrating or take much longer to do something they’re used to doing. An early sign of dementia may be difficulty following a familiar recipe or understanding how to keep track of monthly bills.  

3. Difficulty with Familiar Tasks
It’s normal for a loved one to need help with programming a device or resetting an appliance. It’s not normal for them to become confused when trying to complete daily tasks. Among first signs of dementia are getting lost when driving to a familiar place like the grocery store, having difficulty with a favorite pastime, or forgetting to care for a pet.

4. Confusion with Time or Place
We all occasionally forget what day of the week it is but figure it out later. It’s not normal for someone to be confused by the passage of time, where they are or how they got there. A loved one affected by dementia can only grasp what is happening immediately and will struggle with the concept of “what’s next.” 
5. Vision Problems
It’s normal for a loved one to use reading glasses or need cataract surgery as they age. It’s not normal for their vision problems to lead to loss of balance and trouble reading. Dementia can affect their ability to judge distance, distinguish between colors or see contrasts, all of which will cause issues with driving.  

6. Trouble Following a Conversation
It’s normal for a loved one to occasionally forget a word and then remember it later. It’s not normal for them to have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop or become lost in the middle of  a sentence, struggle to name a familiar object, or use the wrong word (e.g., “mouth cleaner” for “toothbrush”).

7. Misplacing Things
It’s normal for a loved one to forget where they put something and then retrace their steps to find it. It’s not normal for them to put things in unusual places or lose things and be unable to retrace their steps. As dementia progresses, they may even accuse others of stealing things from them.

8. Impaired Decision-Making
Everyone makes a bad decision once in a while, and parents are no exception. However, it’s not normal for them to show increasingly poor judgement or decision-making skills. For example, they may be persuaded to part with their money by scammers. Neglect of personal grooming can be a sign of dementia in women or men.   

9. Decreased Social Contact
It’s normal for a loved one to be uninterested in family or social interactions, or to need alone time. It’s not normal for them to withdraw because of an inability to be part of conversations and activities. If they’re affected by dementia, they may not want to join in familiar hobbies or social engagement because they’re afraid they can’t keep up.

10.   Personality Changes
Older adults tend to be set in their ways and feel irritated by changes in routine. However, it’s not normal for a loved one to have dramatic mood or personality changes. Someone with dementia may become anxious, confused, suspicious or easily upset by others, even close friends and family.

Early Detection Matters
We hope you found our early signs of dementia checklist helpful. Dementia is a condition that affects 1 in 10 people over age 65. If you notice one or more of these warning signs in your loved one, reach out for help. While it’s natural to feel anxious about discussing these changes and what they could mean, it’s more important to get these symptoms checked out to determine if there’s real cause for worry. At Rolling Green Village, we’re here to help. Contact us to learn more about our memory care options and to ensure your loved one gets the attention they deserve.