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If You Do This When Talking, Get Checked For Dementia

Subtle signs of dementia you should be aware of.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Almost six million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's disease (the most common form of dementia), a number projected to reach 14 million people by the year 2060. "If you suspect dementia or you're at risk, see a doctor for an evaluation," says neuropsychologist Aaron Bonner-Jackson, Ph.D. "Your doctor can help create a personalized plan to stave off worsening memory loss and other symptoms for as long as possible." If you do any of these things while talking, get checked for dementia, experts advise. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Difficulty Following Conversation

Senior woman conducting an interview

If you find it increasingly difficult to follow a conversation when there is distraction in the background,  it could be a sign of dementia. "While most people think of memory problems when we hear the word dementia, this is far from the whole story," says Dr. Katy Stubbs from Alzheimer's Research UK. "Many people with dementia will experience difficulty following speech in a noisy environment – a symptom sometimes called the 'cocktail party problem'."


Trailing Off Mid-Sentence

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Confusion while talking should never be ignored, experts say. "That's why it's important to get a good neurological workup, including detailed cognitive testing," says Dr. Bonner-Jackson. "That testing, in some cases, can sort out whether this is part of a normal aging process or whether there may be something going on."

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Forgetting What You Said

Close up head shot portrait unhealthy middle aged woman touching forehead. Unhappy sad mature female retiree feeling tired, suffering from head ache, migraine or dizziness, healthcare concept.

If you find yourself unable to recall a recent conversation, even with hints, it could be a sign of dementia. "When we start to get worried [is] when, for example, in Alzheimer's—probably the most typical presentation, although there are some variants there—the most typical presentation is not only the memory loss, but that when we get those hints later, it still doesn't come back to us," says James Leverenz, MD. "It's as if the event or the discussion had not happened. We all forget things a few times or may need a few hints to pull up an event or some sort of specific memory information. But we worry more about it when putting new information and you've had a conversation with, say, a parent, and they don't remember that conversation later and even with hints, it's not coming back to them. That's sort of one of the things that we worry about."

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Getting Sleepy

Moody aged man feeling unhappy.

If you find yourself getting tired and sleepy while having a conversation, it could be a sign of Alzheimer's. A recent study shows that dementia can directly affect the part of the brain responsible for sleep. "We were able to prove what our previous research had been pointing to — that in Alzheimer's patients who need to nap all the time, the disease has damaged the neurons that keep them awake," says Lea Grinberg, MD, PhD. "It's not that these patients are tired during the day because they didn't sleep at night. It's that the system in their brain that would keep them awake is gone."

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You Can't Hear What Someone Is Saying

sad senior listening, old man hearing concept of deafness or hard of hearing

There is growing evidence that hearing problems and dementia are linked, doctors say. "The cause behind this link is unclear. But one theory is that hearing loss tends to cause some people to withdraw from conversations and participate less in activities," says geriatric medicine specialist Ronan Factora, MD. "As a result, you become less social and less engaged… If you do have hearing loss and your physician offers a solution like hearing aids, try them out. If you wait too long and develop memory problems, it will be more difficult for you to learn how to use these devices. It's best to get used to them while the mind is still sharp so you can improve your quality of life."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan