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These Dementia Symptoms Can Appear Early. Catch Them Fast to Live a Longer Life

Learn three signs of dementia that you can catch early, experts say. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Dementia is a debilitating disorder that can affect your cognitive abilities like memory, judgment, and thinking so severely that day-to-day activities and routines are disrupted. Dementia is a common condition and according to the World Health Organization, "Currently more than 55 million people live with dementia worldwide, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that primarily or secondarily affect the brain. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases."

The major risk factor is age and mostly people over 65 have reason to be concerned, but that's not true in all cases. Dr. Jacob Hascalovici MD, PhD Clearing Chief Medical Officer says "People should know that dementia doesn't only affect older people. It can impact people under 65, too. Typically, it involves changes that are more pervasive and more concerning than simply forgetting a word here and there or occasionally dealing with an episode of brain fog."

Dementia isn't a normal part of aging and according to WHO, "Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally." While there's no cure for the condition as of now, knowing the warning signs can help get treatment sooner and prolong the symptoms. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with doctors who share what to know about dementia and signs to watch out for. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Dementia

elderly man alzheimer's dementia concept

Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies explains, "Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is an early symptom. Other early symptoms may include problems with language, disorientation (for example, getting lost), mood changes, and personality changes. As dementia progresses, symptoms can include increasing confusion and restlessness, behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and agitation, delusions and hallucinations, loss of bodily functions (such as toileting), and increasing dependency on others.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing dementia, but strategies to help manage the condition include: engaging in mentally and physically stimulating activities; maintaining social and physical activity; eating a healthy diet; exercising regularly; getting enough sleep; and managing stress levels. People with dementia often require specialized care as the condition progresses. This can be provided at home, a nursing home, or another long-term care facility. There is no known cure for dementia, but treatments are available to help manage the symptoms. These include medication, cognitive stimulation therapy, and supportive care. With proper treatment and support, many people with dementia can live happy and fulfilling lives."


How to Help Lower the Risk of Dementia

Group seniors with dementia builds a tower in the nursing home from colorful building blocks

Dr. Hascalovici says, "Though it's difficult to predict who exactly might develop dementia, certain lifestyle habits make dementia more likely. These include regularly getting enough sleep, following an anti-inflammatory diet, maintaining a fulfilling social life, and staying physically active. In addition, the body needs a challenge every once in a while to stay healthy. That's why weights, walking, and aerobics can help so much. In a similar vein, the brain needs a regular workout, too, especially if you've recently retired or find yourself becoming bored or "spacy" a lot. You could decide to take up a new language or teach yourself a new skill, for example. Games and puzzles help, too, though their effects may not be as substantive as teaching yourself a new hobby."

Dr. Mitchell shares, "As our population ages, the incidence of dementia is on the rise. While there is no surefire way to prevent this degenerative disease, there are steps that can be taken to lower the risk. One of the most important things you can do is to stay mentally active. Regularly engaging in activities that challenge your mind can help to keep your brain healthy and slow the onset of dementia. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and managing stress can all help to reduce the risk of dementia. Finally, staying socially connected is also crucial. Isolation has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, so it's important to stay engaged with family and friends. By taking these steps, you can help to lower your risk of developing dementia."


You Can't Get Through a Normal Conversation or Keep Track of Dates and Times

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Dr. Hascalovici states, "You might cover it up or figure out ways to excuse yourself from conversations that "take a turn," but if you find yourself regularly fumbling to converse, forgetting common words and phrases, being unable to maintain concentration on a dialogue, or feeling awkward or "lost" within a conversation, it could be sign of dementia." 

Dr. Mitchell adds, "Dementia is a common degenerative disease that typically affects older adults. Early symptoms of dementia can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent to family and friends. However, some warning signs can indicate the early onset of dementia. One of the most common early signs is difficulty tracking time and dates. This can manifest in forgetting the day or the inability to keep track of appointments. Another early sign of dementia is trouble keeping track of conversations. This may involve forgetting what was just said or jumping from topic to topic without any apparent connection. If you notice these or other changes in a loved one's behavior, you must see a doctor for an evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to slow the progression of dementia."


You Get Lost in Familiar Places and can't Complete Routine Tasks

Senior Hispanic Man Suffering With Dementia Trying To Dress

According to Dr. Hascalovici, "Dementia can impair your spatial and navigational abilities, meaning you may get lost even in places you know like the back of your hand. If you find it strangely difficult to navigate to familiar places like church, the grocery store, work, or a friend's house, it could be time to check for dementia. It may be tempting to offer excuses like "being tired" for why it's becoming tough to find your way, but catching dementia early on can slow its progress, so it's important to act fast on any hunches or suspicions."

Dr. Mitchell says, "There are several reasons someone may struggle to follow instructions or complete familiar tasks. Dementia is one possible cause, as the condition can lead to cognitive impairment and difficulty with executive functioning. Other causes of these struggles could include mental health conditions like ADHD or OCD, brain injuries, or simply getting older and experiencing age-related cognitive decline. If you are struggling in this way, it is important to talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions. In some cases, cognitive rehabilitation and other therapy forms can help improve symptoms. However, if the cause is dementia, there is currently no cure. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the early signs of the condition so that you can seek treatment as soon as possible.

Sometimes, the problem may be that the person can no longer plan or organize their thoughts effectively. This difficulty is often related to problems with the brain's frontal lobe, which controls executive functions such as planning and decision-making. Dementia can also cause short-term memory problems, making it challenging to complete familiar tasks requiring a sequence of steps. This memory loss is typically associated with damage to the brain's temporal lobes. If you notice that someone is having difficulty completing familiar tasks, it may be a sign that they are experiencing early dementia symptoms and should be evaluated by a doctor."


You're Experiencing Changes in Your Mood or Behavior, such as Increased Anxiety, Depression, Irritability, or Apathy

senior woman with adult daughter at home.

Dr. Mitchell tells us, "As we age, it's normal for our memory and thinking skills to decline slowly. However, sometimes these changes can be a sign of dementia, a serious condition that causes memory loss and impairs cognitive function. If you're experiencing changes in your mood or behavior, such as increased anxiety, depression, irritability, or apathy, it may be a sign that you're developing dementia. Other early signs of the condition include difficulty planning or solving problems, trouble completing familiar tasks, and confusion about time or place. If you're concerned about your cognitive health, you must see a doctor for a comprehensive evaluation. With early diagnosis and treatment, you can slow the progression of dementia and enjoy a better quality of life.

Apathy is a state of indifference or a lack of interest or concern. It can manifest as a personal quality or an overall attitude. In either case, it represents a disengagement from life. While apathy is not inherently bad, it can be problematic when it leads to a lack of motivation or action. For older adults, apathy can be an early sign of dementia. When left unchecked, apathy can lead to social isolation and physical and mental health decline. In some cases, it may even hasten the progression of dementia. As such, loved ones need to look for signs of apathy in older adults. If you notice that someone you care about has become more withdrawn or uninterested in things they used to enjoy, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Early intervention can make a world of difference in this devastating disease.

If you notice any of these changes in yourself, don't ignore them. Talk to your doctor about getting evaluated for dementia. Early diagnosis is important because it gives you and your family time to plan for the future and access treatment and support services."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather