9 Early Warning Signs of Dementia and Next Steps You Should Take

The holiday season is a common time of year to discover worrying signs of dementia in loved ones we don’t regularly see. It may be the first time you may have noticed a family member is not quite as sharp as they used to be. You may have noticed them acting a little spacey, forgetting things you could swear you told them, or being a little less on top of it than they used to be. If you’re like many, this sparked questions such as, “what are the signs of dementia?” In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the early signs of dementia, so you can decide if it’s worth taking your loved one for further evaluation.


9 Early Signs of Dementia

If you’re concerned about dementia, whether it’s for yourself or someone you love, an early diagnosis is crucial for the best chance at effective treatment. While dementia cannot be cured, there are many benefits to an early diagnosis.


1. Disruptive daily issues related to memory loss

While occasional forgetfulness is normal as we age, forgetting recently learned information entirely or being unable to recall important events or tasks is one of the most common signs of dementia.


Again, it’s normal to occasionally forget details, names, etc. as we age. If, however, you’re unable to recall them later or it disrupts daily life, it may be a sign of dementia.


2. Forgetting how to do routine tasks

It’s normal to occasionally forget how to do things when you’re distracted or busy. This may lead you to forget to serve a part of a meal you prepared, for example.


A person with dementia is likely to forget or have trouble remembering routine steps within the preparation itself—i.e., routine tasks they have done dozens of times before.


3. Making odd sentences

It is normal to forget a word or struggle to find the right word to communicate what you’re trying to say.


Dementia, on the other hand, is a little more severe. Someone with dementia may struggle with an entire conversation or come up with nonsensical word substitutes. For example, calling a scarf a “neck blanket.”


4. Losing track of time and place

A normal age-related change you may experience is occasionally forgetting the day of the week (but later remembering) or getting lost driving around new neighborhoods.


Dementia, again, is a bit more severe. It could be, for example, not remembering their way home from a regularly visited grocery store, or completely losing track of the days of the week.


5. Difficulty with abstract concepts

We all struggle from time to time with concepts that require abstract thought, such as budgeting. Someone with dementia‌, however, may struggle when looking at numbers or calculator symbols–it’s less about remembering how to balance a budget and more about forgetting what the symbols (like the Arabic numerals or the division symbol) mean.


More concrete associations may become difficult as well. For example, it’s not just about forgetting where you placed your car keys. It’s more about forgetting what they use those car keys for.


6. Misplacing items

While we touched on the fact that misplacing items is a normal part of life and aging, there is a level of displacement that becomes more concerning.

Misplacing your keys in the hustle and bustle of life is normal. Putting your things in inappropriate places, such as car keys inside a cookie jar, or the television remote in the bathtub, for example, can be a sign of dementia.


7. Poor judgment

Everyone makes poor or harmful decisions from time to time (like choosing to avoid the dentist or prolonging a much-needed oil change), but someone with early signs of dementia may more regularly make harmful decisions for themselves.


It’s normal to put off going to the doctor. It’s concerning if they’re neglecting to care for themselves or wearing heavy/bulky clothing on a warm day.


8. Withdrawal from activities

People with dementia experience difficulty expressing themselves and, therefore, relating to other people. Because of this, they may start to withdraw from social gatherings, hobbies they love, etc.


It’s normal to lose interest in a certain event or to be uninterested in your obligations. It’s not normal if this withdrawal is because of your being unable to keep up with a conversation.


9. Dramatic mood swings or changes in personality

As we age, we become much more set in our routines. It is normal to become irritable when your routine gets disrupted.


Dementia, on the other hand, manifests more within dramatic mood swings. From feeling content to confused, normal to suspicious, or from happy to fearful.


Next Steps if you Suspect Dementia

If you read through this list and felt it accurately described yourself or a loved one, it’s worth consulting with a professional for a proper diagnosis and ruling out a medical condition. Dementia cannot be self-diagnosed, so if one or more of these resonate with you, make a plan to consult a doctor.


Closing Thoughts

Dementia can be scary for the person affected and their family, but you can still live a full and happy life with dementia. Early diagnosis will offer the most potential paths for treatment, so if you suspect you or a family member may have dementia, consult a physician as soon as possible.


If you are a caregiver for your loved one, we recommend you check out our article about getting paid to be a caregiver. Becoming a caregiver is difficult and expensive–out-of-pocket annual costs average in the thousands for a family caregiver. The state of California offers several paths to receiving at least partial compensation or subsidized assistance, so click here to learn more about how to get paid to be a caregiver.


For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to call us at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.


Works Consulted:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dementia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352013

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/symptoms/

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs

https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/do-i-have-dementia/10-warning-signs-dementia

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dementia-early-signs