Skip to content

7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia to Never Ignore

Overlook these initial symptoms at your peril.

As with many serious health conditions, the first symptoms of dementia may be subtle, the equivalent of a whisper, not a flashing red light. "The earliest symptoms of neurocognitive disorder, or mild dementia, are often mistaken for normal aging, depression or anxiety," says Thomas C. Hammond, MD, a neurologist with Baptist Health's Marcus Neuroscience Institute in Boca Raton, Florida. It's important to be alert for these early signals so treatment can be sought early—in some cases, symptoms are reversible; in others, the progression of the illness can be slowed. If these symptoms don't go away after a short time, or they get worse, it warrants a call to your doctor. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID.


What Is Dementia?

Doctor examines MRI scan of head, neck and brain of patient

"Dementia is not a single disease but a term that describes a collection of changes to memory, thinking, and personality that interfere with a person's ability to function," says Scott Kaiser, MD, director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "This disorder can be caused by a variety of brain diseases or conditions." Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting more than five million Americans. 


Memory Loss

woman awake in bed

Someone with dementia may experience memory loss related to recent or important events, names and places, where they left certain objects, and other new information. This is more severe or frequent than forgetfulness that may happen with normal aging. For example: It's normal to occasionally forget where your keys are, but when you have trouble retracing your steps to find them, it could be a sign of dementia.


Mood Changes

Senior man in eyeglasses looking in distance out of window

Mood changes are also an early sign of dementia; they can be easy to overlook. Someone with early dementia may become apathetic, losing interest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed. Family members might excuse these changes as feeling blue or stressed out. "Subtle personality changes are probably the most commonly missed early symptom in dementia," says Hammond. 


Getting Lost

Mature woman on bench in autumn park.

A person with dementia may become lost in familiar places, like their own neighborhood or a frequently driven route. They may forget how they got there and how to get back home.


Coordination Problems

Elderly stroke, Asian older woman suffer fall.

Dementia may cause an affected person to have trouble walking or maintaining coordination. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, that can include having difficulty with balance or judging distance, tripping over things, or spilling or dropping items more often.



full shopping cart

Someone with dementia might over-purchase certain items, stocking up on toiletry products or makeup. When they're out shopping, recent purchases might be forgotten, leading to the erroneous belief that it's time to restock. Family members might notice an unusual accumulation of certain items.


Language Problems

senior African American man sitting on white sofa in light room in beach house

Difficulty communicating is a common early sign of dementia. The affected person might have trouble finding the right words, finishing sentences or following conversations. "These may be subtle language changes that are not readily noticed," says Hammond. "Words will escape them in conversation, and they will use substitutions or talk around the word they cannot recall."  

RELATED: Sure Signs You May Have Dementia, According to the CDC


Difficulty With Complex Tasks

Stressed middle 60s aged worker woman massaging head suffering of headache in home office.

A person with dementia may have trouble with reading, writing or complex mental tasks like following directions or making calculations. Familiar chores, like paying bills or cooking favorite recipes, may become difficult, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "As the memory problems pick up, the individual with early dementia will leave tasks incomplete, avoid complex games and projects and give up the financial management (like the checkbook) to a spouse or partner," says Hammond. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss The #1 Cause of Diabetes, According to Doctors.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael