Signs of Dementia

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on February 15, 2024
6 min read

Dementia is a term for a group of symptoms that affect your ability to think and remember things. It can also cause changes in the way you act and your mood. These symptoms are often bad enough to impact your daily life. 

Dementia is the result of a variety of diseases, like Alzheimer's disease. It mainly affects people over age 65. If you have a close relative with dementia, you are more likely to get it than those with no family history. 


Common types of dementia include:

These types of dementia are not reversible, meaning they won't go away. They are progressive (happen slowly but steadily) and get worse over time. However, some types of dementia may be reversible, such as those caused by:

  • Infections
  • Lack of vitamins
  • Medications
  • Brain tumors
  • Low oxygen to the brain
  • Poisoning
  • Problems with thyroid gland

Dementia symptoms result from damage to the brain caused by disease or injury. This causes brain cells to die. There are different signs depending on the type of dementia a person has. These are the most common:

Memory loss

Memory loss is a common symptom of dementia. As brain cells die, it becomes difficult or impossible to store new memories or access old ones. You might regularly forget appointments, people's names, birthdays and anniversaries, and where you put things. Everyone forgets things, but when you have dementia, the forgetfulness is more regular and affects your ability to function. 

Mood changes

You may experience changes in your emotional state. You may be more irritable that you used to be, quicker to react emotionally, and have less control over your emotions. Your moods might also change quickly, from happy to sad, irritable, or angry.

Anxiety and depression

These are common mental health disorders linked to dementia. The symptoms -- even early on -- can make life much more difficult and put a strain on relationships. The knowledge that you are changing, and that you have a condition that will slowly get worse, can greatly increase your risk of becoming anxious and depressed. With depression, you may feel sad, tired, and uninterested in activities you used to love. Anxiety can make you feel unsure and unsafe, on edge, restless, tired, and irritable. 


It’s not uncommon for a person with dementia to wander – to walk out of the house in a seemingly random direction. Problems with memory and sensory perception can make you feel confused about where you are. Even your own home can be unfamiliar, which can cause you to want to get out and find a place where you feel safe. Other reasons for wandering include, anxiety, restlessness, and trying to fulfill past obligations, like going to work even though you have retired. 

Paranoia and delusions

Another sign of dementia is becoming suspicious of the people around you and thinking that others are out to get you. You might become convinced, again and again, that someone has stolen your wallet, for example. This is often the result of changes in your brain that affect your mood as well as the loss of memory. You may think you left your wallet on the dining room table, but in fact you put it in your bedroom. 

Fear and aggression

As our world becomes more confusing, you may begin to feel defenseless and afraid, trapped, and angry. You might also have physical pain that you aren't able to express, or you may be tired, hungry, depressed, or anxious. This can make you lash out at those around you, verbally and physically. None of this is your fault -- it's the changes taking place in your brain and your environment. 

Problems speaking and writing

Since dementia affects your memory, it can make it hard for you to remember words when you're writing or having a conversation. Following conversations or remembering the topic of a chat can also be difficult. 

Difficulty doing familiar things

It's common to forget how to do things you used to do frequently. You might get lost going to familiar places, forget how to use a stove or cell phone, or get confused while grocery shopping.

Visual and spatial problems

Dementia can cause misperceptions, when you recognize one thing as something else. For example, you might see a blue-tiled floor and think it's a pool of water. It can also cause misidentification, and make it hard to recognize familiar people. For example, you might mistake your son for your husband. And dementia can affect how you process distances. It might be hard for you to climb stairs or park your car.

If you have been diagnosed with dementia, you might feel like life will never be good again. It's true that it will be very different, but there are ways you can ease the burden and improve your quality of life. 

Create a regular routine

Create a daily schedule and write it down. By doing this, you may spend less time trying to figure out what you wanted to do or are supposed to do on any given day. Plus, routine and predictability are helpful for people with dementia. 

Keep up your social life

Consider joining a group for people with dementia or attending dementia-friendly activities. These activities have safety measures in place so you can socialize safely. It may also be helpful for you to share stories with others who have dementia. Keeping in touch with your friends and loved ones is also good for your overall mental health.

Tell people you are close to

Some people with dementia hesitate to tell people because they do not want their friends and family to treat them differently. However, letting people know about your dementia is good for your safety. It will let people know that you may act differently when you are around them. It can also let them know that you may need their help in the future for things like driving or running errands. Having a support system in place can make a big difference for your mental health and coping. 

Write things down and keep them handy

Write down important numbers and post them in an obvious place like by the phone or on the fridge. Write down your schedule and place it somewhere you will see it. You may find using sticky notes and putting them on the door or other places you look frequently will help you remember important things.

Put bills on autopay

Setting up your bills to directly debit (be removed) from your bank account means one less thing you have to remember. If you need help to set this up, you can ask a tech-savvy relative or call the service for which you need to set up autopay.

Use a pill organizer 

You may take prescription medication to help with your symptoms. You might also take medications for other conditions. It can be hard to remember whether you took your medications. There are specialized pill containers that have sections for each day to help. You can get one that has multiple spaces per day for medications that you have to take at different times of the day.

This condition can be overwhelming for caregivers, family members, and people with dementia. The following resources can help.