Recognizing the 13 Signs of Early Dementia

Dementia is a debilitating condition that affects roughly 5.7 million people in the United States each year. Despite it affecting so many people though, many don’t know much about what this condition is or how to spot it early.

Why is catching dementia early so important?

Catching dementia early can help minimize its effects, regardless if its cause is treatable or not. So, what are the most common signs of dementia that warrant medical examination?…

13. Memory Loss that Interrupts Daily Life

One of the single-most classic signs of dementia is extreme forgetfulness.

Is it dementia or normal forgetfulness?

Most people occasionally forget a name or phone number. Almost everyone loses their keys from time to time or forgets the name of a colleague. The difference between normal memory loss and dementia? The effect it has on daily living. Dementia can make even simple tasks difficult, which can have a strong negative impact on the sufferer’s quality of life.

How can you spot this symptom?

Some signs of dementia, for example, are asking the same question repeatedly and giving the same commands over and over. People who are struggling with early dementia may therefore rely heavily on memory aids (notes, cell phones) to help them with basic tasks.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

To help someone who is frequently forgetful, exercise patience. If they ask the same question repeatedly, simply answer them without annoyance. You can also assist them in keeping their belongings in the same place each time they are used/put away. This way, losing an item is less likely to happen.

Expect more than just memory problems to make daily life more difficult.

Forgetfulness unfortunately isn’t the only dementia symptom that impedes everyday living…

12. Challenges with Problem-Solving

People with dementia struggle with the ability to work a simple plan or carry out a simple routine—or, really, most tasks that involve even basic problem-solving.

What are some common manifestations of this symptom?

Ways this symptom manifests include:

  • An inability to pay monthly bills in a timely manner
  • Difficulty maintaining households
  • A sudden inability to plan and cook meals

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

Many caregivers find it best to simply take over some of these tasks for their loved ones. For example, hiring an assistant to pay bills or organize paperwork can ease the strain of caring for someone who is showing the early signs of dementia.

Consequences of this symptom can be devastating.

Unfortunately, when problem-solving skills take a hit, it can lead to some frustrating complications…

11. Difficulty with Familiar Tasks

One major sign of dementia is difficulty with tasks that were once routine.

How does this symptom often manifest?

This symptom can take the form of:

  • Not remembering how to play chess after a lifetime of enjoying the game
  • Having difficulty dressing
  • Forgetting how to turn on the stove
  • Repeatedly forgetting to lock the door on the way out
  • Not remembering how to drive to a loved one’s house or other frequented location
  • Having difficulty operating the coffee maker

It’s not just old routines that become difficult, either; new tasks are incredibly difficult to tackle. While almost everyone struggles with a new task every once in a while, people with dementia suffer from this challenge frequently.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

The key to helping a person suffering from dementia is to keep their surroundings as familiar as possible. So, try not to shift their belongings around, as this movement can make it harder for them to carry out their routines. Conversely, familiar smells, sounds, and sights can make this shift in cognition easier for someone in the early stages of dementia.

Keeping surroundings as familiar as possible is also key to managing this next symptom…

10. Confusion about Location and Time

The passage of time is a difficult concept for someone suffering from dementia. That is why some sufferers forget what year it is or even where they live.

How does this symptom manifest?

There are several ways this symptom may manifest. For example:

  • A woman may get dressed in her Sunday best and wait in the living room for her husband to take her to church. The husband, however, died more than 40 years prior.
  • A man may believe he lives in a country he migrated from 50 years ago.
  • Someone may believe the president is someone who served in office when they were in their 20s.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

Dealing with someone who is confused about time and space can be tricky. After all, reminding the sufferer that their loved one died decades ago can be as traumatic as the first time they learned of the news. Sometimes, not arguing with someone who suffers from dementia over every little detail is the best course of action.

9. Trouble Judging Color, Patterns, and Distance

When people suffer from dementia, they often have problems recognizing and analyzing contrasting colors and complex patterns. It may also be difficult for them to estimate speed or even judge distance.

How does this symptom manifest?

This symptom can result in difficulty driving or even walking. For example, a driver with dementia may not be able to estimate the speed at which a car is approaching, causing them to get into accidents.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

When people lose their ability to judge distances, driving becomes dangerous for them and other drivers on the road. Help them to stay off the roads as much as possible.

One of the best tips for helping loved ones who have trouble judging distance? Create a transportation network that allows them to live without driving. This network can mean:

  • Assigning people to drive them to social activities
  • Assisting them with public transportation
  • Arranging for them to be picked up by ride-share services like Uber or Lyft

Whatever you choose, just know that communicating with a loved one suffering from this condition can become increasingly more difficult as everything progresses…

8. Communication and Concentration Problems

Another sign of early dementia is forgetting common words or phrases. Furthermore, people who suffer from dementia often find it difficult to concentrate and will therefore have shortened attention spans. All of these issues can result in language and communication problems.

How does this symptom manifest?

Some examples of this symptom manifesting include:

  • Pausing in the middle of a sentence to find the right word
  • Being unable to follow a conversation
  • Interrupting a conversation with an unrelated topic
  • Being unable to recall a correct, relevant word
  • “Checking out” of a conversation and starting a new one
  • Switching from one activity to another frequently
  • Forgetting the names of common objects (e.g., calling a watch a “wrist clock”)

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

The best way to deal with these situations is to exercise patience. If your loved one has trouble with language, try to understand them as best you can. Warn people ahead of time to exercise patience when conversing with them to make things easier as well.

Concentration problems don’t just affect communication.

When someone has difficulty concentrating and remembering things, it’s quite common for dementia sufferers to develop the following tendency…

7. Misplacing Objects

People who are suffering from the early signs of dementia often lose things and have difficulty retracing their steps. Unfortunately, this misplacement often leads the sufferer to accuse other people of hiding them or even stealing from them.

How does this symptom manifest?

Many caregivers describe finding cordless telephones in the freezer, books in the washing machine, or clothes in filing cabinets.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

Don’t move a sufferers’ things. It may seem counterintuitive, but leave their belongings exactly as they have arranged them. It may be strange for you to open a kitchen cabinet and find framed photographs, but for your loved one, it makes sense. Disrupting their world can make the situation worse by creating distress for people suffering from dementia.

Of course, locating objects and possessions can be much more difficult if the following symptom develops…

6. Disorganization and Hoarding

Many people who are suffering early-stage dementia develop hoarding disorders.

How does this symptom manifest?

Someone may hoard specific items like newspapers, mail, or clothing. Others simply keep every item that comes into their household, refusing to throw anything away.

Hoarding is a serious symptom.

Hoarding isn’t just an annoying, unappealing problem. It can be dangerous. Why?

  1. Piled items can create a fall hazard for older adults.
  2. If your loved one is in need of emergency medical care, excessive clutter can make it hard for emergency personnel to reach them in time.
  3. Elderly people who suffer from hoarding may mistakenly eat rotten food and get sick, or find it hard to cook due to piles of items that clog the kitchen area.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

When dealing with a loved one who is hoarding, it is important to remember that these items may have strong significance to them, even if they seem like junk to everyone else.

So, what’s the solution? Some people simply throw everything away and clean up; however, this tactic can wreak havoc on your relationship with someone with dementia. If the situation is hazardous, though, it may help to bring in a mental health professional to assist them in dealing with the problem.

Just make sure that this someone you bring in is someone you can trust, because those with dementia are often targets of scam artists due to the following symptom…

5. Poor Judgement

Those suffering from dementia naturally have difficulties with memory, communication, and problem-solving. So, it’s only natural that their ability to make sound judgments declines as this condition progresses.

How does this symptom manifest?

Elder fraud is a common problem with dementia sufferers, as they are prime targets for con artists. For example, a sufferer may sign away their assets or give away money to smooth-talking relatives. They may also invite strangers into their homes, or make major decisions without consulting anyone. In some extreme cases, seniors who are suffering from dementia have been known to sign over their homes, bank accounts, and assets to perfect strangers.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

It is often necessary for caregivers to take over major decision-making for their elderly loved ones.

For example, as the condition worsens, you may have to take over their financial affairs. So, it’s best to talk out the details before they are unable to state their preferences when it comes to how their money is managed. Then, let everyone know that you will be handling their affairs. This way, people will understand that they will not be able to trick your loved one out of their assets.

You should additionally monitor your loved one’s accounts closely. Beware of new “friends” who suddenly appear and want to spend excessive time alone with your relative. It may be that these people are simply trying to scam your loved one.

Unfortunately, as the disease progresses, sufferers will have difficulty with basic self-care practices, not just money management…

4. Problems with Self-Care

People with dementia may neglect basic aspects of self-care.

How does this symptom manifest?

Sufferers may neglect their grooming. For example, they may go days or even weeks without bathing or brushing teeth. They may also stay up late or refuse to change clothes.

These signs are often more noticeable as the condition gets progressively worse. Dementia can also cause a mild form of depression, which can worsen these symptoms and make the person even less likely to care for themselves. In many cases, caregivers may find themselves forcing their loved ones to bathe, which can cause tense relationships.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

It can be extremely difficult to assist a loved one who has neglected their personal grooming and hygiene. In many cases, they don’t see a problem with not bathing, combing their hair, or brushing their teeth. In fact, they may be offended at the suggestion that they need to make more of an effort to care for themselves.

The key here is to afford them the dignity they deserve when assisting them. Allow them to bathe privately, if possible. Be non-judgmental when addressing their lack of hygiene. Let them know that you care about their health, and you just want to make sure they remain healthy.

This step is especially important as dementia can also lead to the following…

3. Social Withdrawal

People suffering from dementia often develop the tendency to isolate themselves.

How does this symptom manifest?

The previously active and gregarious senior may become withdrawn, wanting only to stay in and watch television all day. If he has a job or volunteers, he may no longer want to work or participate in other civic activities.

Why do sufferers isolate themselves?

This social withdrawal is often connected to other symptoms of dementia. For instance, the person can no longer remember the names of friends, so he avoids them. Or, he may be unable to hold a conversation or forget common words. In an attempt to avoid this frustrating event, he just stays at home alone.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

Make it a point to incorporate social activities in sufferers’ lives—if they want them. The best way to go about this is to find out what level of social interaction they are most comfortable with.

For example, perhaps they would enjoy having a friend over to look at photo albums or maybe they would enjoy going to a performance at their place of worship. The key is to help them be social in a way that they would enjoy, not what the caregiver alone thinks is best.

This step is especially important to keep in mind if the following symptom develops…

2. Personality and Mood Changes

A major sign of dementia is drastic mood changes.

How does this symptom manifest?

The once-friendly and outgoing grandmother is now anxious, sullen, and moody. People who were once easygoing and carefree are now suspicious and fearful.

How does dementia cause mood changes?

Mood and personality changes are closely linked with other signs of dementia. For example, if a person can’t remember where they placed a treasured item, they may become suspicious that other people in the house took it away. Later, they may even start accusing others, becoming angry when denial of theft occurs—even when the theft really didn’t happen.

Another example would be if an elderly man thinks his deceased wife is still alive. He may be expecting his deceased wife to come home from shopping, and is confused, anxious, and worried when she doesn’t arrive.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

Personality and mood changes can be jarring. Your loved one may lash out at you or even call you mean names, especially if they no longer recognize you.

The key to dealing with this issue is to exercise extreme patience. Understand that these changes are not personal; the sufferer cannot control what is happening in their brain.

What happens if the relative turns violent? In this case, it can help to have another adult on hand for assistance.

The most devastating symptom of all?

While all of the previously mentioned signs of dementia are difficult to live and deal with, the following is perhaps the most devastating consequence of this condition of all…

1. Not Recognizing Loved Ones

The final stages of dementia lead to the most devastating consequence of the condition: when someone cannot recognize the faces of loved ones. This symptom is hard for all involved.

What are the complications of this symptom?

Not being able to recognize others can lead to some devastating consequences beyond heartbreak (as if that wasn’t bad enough).

For instance, a person with dementia may not recognize the people in their home and may lash out in fear. Someone may wake in bed next to a spouse they don’t recognize, causing them to panic and possibly harm the person they think is a home invader.

Are there ways to manage this symptom?

When dementia progresses to this point, dealing with the fallout can be both emotionally and physically taxing on all involved. The key here is to take frequent breaks from caregiving if you are the primary caregiver. After all, caregiver burnout can leave you drained in any situation. Assisting a loved one who doesn’t know who you are only adds to that stress.

Fortunately, some professional organizations provide respite care and can assist you with finding other resources to make caring for your loved one easier.

What’s next?

Seeing someone you love struggle with dementia is incredibly difficult. When this happens, there are a few things to keep in mind to make handling everything easier…

Early Detection is Key

In isolation, the early signs of dementia may seem like a normal part of the aging process. After all, many people lose their keys or forget a name as they get older; this age-related forgetfulness is often no serious cause for alarm. When forgetfulness impedes daily living and appears with several other dementia signs at once, though, it is time to seek professional help.

Early detection leads to the best possible outcome.

When it comes to managing dementia or dementia-like symptoms, the best thing you can do is spot the condition as early as possible. This way, you can get your loved one proper help as soon as possible.

Importantly, no matter if the dementia is treatable or not, early detection will always lead to the best possible outcome—whether that be full treatment or minimization and slowing progression of the symptoms.

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