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Signs of Dementia Usually Ignored by People

These warning signs should not be overlooked.

The progressive brain disorder known as dementia can have devastating effects on a person's ability to function. But his potentially all-encompassing disease can present with symptoms that are subtle, more a whisper than shout. "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. These are the signs of dementia that are often overlooked or ignored. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


Changes in Personality

Mature woman on bench in autumn park.

"Subtle personality changes are probably the most commonly missed early symptom in dementia," says Hammond. For example, people with early cognitive decline will often spend less time with others and begin to isolate. Friends and family members might view this as shyness or simply being in a funk.


Shifts in Mood

Mature woman sitting on the sofa.

Changes in mood are also a sign of dementia that are commonly missed, says Hammond. A person with dementia might become apathetic, losing interest in activities they had formerly enjoyed. Family members might explain these changes as depression, anxiety or stress. 

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Trouble With Complex Tasks

Woiman sitting at the table worrying about the money.

"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. 

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Stockpiling Purchases

Senior woman with face mask outdoors with shopping, corona virus and quarantine concept.

An often ignored sign of dementia is stocking up items the person doesn't actually need, says Jared Heathman, MD, a family psychiatrist in Houston. "When out shopping, recent purchases of frequently used items are often forgotten," he says. "This can lead to purchasing items due to the belief that they are running low. As this continues to happen, family may notice an unusual accumulation of certain items."

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Language Difficulties

Close-up portrait of charming old lady, covering her mouth with hands

Problems with language are a common sign of dementia, but they may be subtle and not easily noticed. Words may escape a person with dementia, and they may use substitutions or talk around the word they've having trouble recalling.

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What Is Dementia?

Portrait of worried senior man sitting on sofa in living room

Dementia is an umbrella term for several disorders of the brain. They involve changes to memory, thinking, personality, and judgment that interfere with a person's ability to function. 

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 6.2 million Americans. Aging is the #1 risk factor for Alzheimer's, and most cases are diagnosed in people older than 65. 

As of now, Alzheimer's has no cure. But seeking treatment early may slow the progression of the disease. 

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When to See a Doctor

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, "It's important to pursue a thorough evaluation to identify such concerns and address them," says Scott Kaiser, MD, a board-certified geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "There are many medical conditions and other factors which can cause reversible memory loss," he adds. These can include insomnia, stress, anxiety and depression. The only way to know for sure is to get any concern checked out. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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