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Signs of Dementia

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 14, 2020

Dementia is a term for a group of diseases with similar symptoms that affects your ability to think, socialize, and remember. It causes memory loss, confusion, and severe deficiency in problem-solving and language skills. Generally, people with dementia have symptoms severe enough to impact their daily life.  

Dementia mainly affects people over age 65. People with a close relative who had dementia are more likely to get it than those with no family history of it. 

If you think that a loved one has dementia, talk to them about it, and make a plan to see a doctor who specializes in treating patients with dementia. 

Types of Dementia

Common types of dementia include:

The following conditions can also cause dementia symptoms:

The types of dementia previously mentioned are not reversible. 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
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Poisoning

Signs of Dementia

There are different signs depending on the type of dementia a person has. However, generally, they involve the following.

Memory Loss

Memory loss is a common symptom of dementia. At first, it may be minor, but once it disrupts your daily life, it may be a sign of dementia.

In the early stages, it is called mild cognitive impairment. As symptoms worsen, you may find yourself relying more on sticky notes to remember, or forgetting more things.

However, occasionally forgetting things is normal and usually not something to worry about. 

Mood Changes

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People with dementia may experience mood swings anytime, but especially when they are out of a familiar environment. They may become irritable, fearful, suspicious, or confused at times.

As you age, you may develop comfortable routines. It’s normal to feel a little upset if your typical routine is disrupted. This is not a concern for dementia. Dementia-caused mood swings generally seem out of character for the person with symptoms.

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Problems Speaking and Writing

It’s normal to occasionally have trouble finding the right word for something, but if it happens frequently, it may be a sign of dementia. People with dementia may also struggle to follow conversations or forget the topic of a chat. 

Difficulty Doing Familiar Things

People with dementia may forget how to do things they used to do frequently. They may get lost going to familiar places, forget how to use a stove or cell phone, or get confused while grocery shopping.

Occasional confusion while doing a familiar task is normal and may not be a sign of dementia, but if it becomes a problem, it may be time to get a doctor’s advice.

Problems With Visual and Spatial Perception

Dementia can affect spatial visualization (seeing the world around you). Dropping or spilling things more often, or tripping over objects more frequently can be a sign of dementia.

However, as you age, there are other conditions that may affect your vision, like cataracts. So it’s important to rule those out, especially if this is your main symptom.

Living With Dementia

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 on any given day. Plus, routine and predictability are helpful for some 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. 

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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.

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Write Things Down & 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 to Remember Medications

People with dementia may take prescription medication to help with the symptoms. They may also take vitamins or medications for other conditions. It can be hard to remember whether you took your medications and vitamins each day. 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.

Support and Resources

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

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Alzheimer’s Association: “Find Your Local Chapter.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “Helpline.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “Tips for Daily Life.”

Alzheimer’s Association: “What Is Dementia?”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “The Truth About Aging and Dementia.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What Is Dementia?"

Dementia Friendly America: “Resources.”

Mayo Clinic: “Dementia.”

Memory Cafe Directory: “Memory Cafe Directory.”

National Health Service: “Living well with dementia.”

National Health Service: “Symptoms of dementia.”

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