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I'm a Doctor and Here's the #1 Sign You Have Dementia

What symptoms of dementia you should look out for and why, according to experts.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Almost six million Americans live with dementia—a disorder that affects the "cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities. Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions, and their personalities may change," the National Institute on Aging states. While there's no cure for the time being, there are signs that indicate a person has dementia and preventive measures can be taken. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Dalia Lorenzo, neurologist at Baptist Health's Miami Neuroscience Institute who explained the signs of dementia to watch out for and how lack of sleep is connected to the disorder. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Tremors

violently shaking hands of a PD sufferer (Parkinson's disease), tremors of the wrist and hand joints are the main symptom of the disorder
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Dr. Lorenzo says, "Tremors, gait imbalance or rigidity. Once again, tremors, gait changes or rigidity that are present early on may indicate a different pattern of neurodegeneration other than the typical Alzheimer type dementia. These signs implicate other types of dementia that also have an aggressive course, such as Lewy body dementia, multiple systems atrophy or other Parkinsonian plus syndromes."

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2

Urinary Incontinence

Door handle open to toilet can see toilet
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"One of the few forms of dementia that does have a cure is normal pressure hydrocephalus, which can be treated by a shunting procedure," Dr. Lorenzo states. "Patients that have this condition will present with urinary incontinence early on in their condition. Although most Alzheimer type dementia patients will develop urinary incontinence later on in their disease, in patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus, the incontinence starts early on. Patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus will also report gait changes described as magnetic gait because they have significant difficulty raising their feet off the floor and will walk very slowly, as if magnets were holding their feet down to the ground." 

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3

Lapses of Awareness or Loss of Consciousness

Senior Hispanic Man Suffering With Dementia Trying To Dress
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According to Dr. Lorenzo, "This raises the possibility that the patient is having seizures. Not all seizures come with the convulsions, which are obvious and readily diagnosed. Some seizures just present with abrupt lapses in awareness, repetitive stereotyped behaviors that can be very variable. By way of example, picture a person who has a blank stare and is just briefly picking at their clothes, or smacking their lips and the whole episode ends after less than two minutes. Even in between these observed episodes, patients with epilepsy can still be having small electrical discharges that can derail the normal functioning of the brain enough to present with cognitive issues including memory and concentration difficulties."

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4

How Lack Sleep is Connected to Dementia

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Dr. Lorenzo explains people who get less than six hours of sleep a night are at a higher risk for developing dementia. "Sleep is a time when most of the cortex of the brain is offline, allowing the neurons to get rid of waste products, recharge energy stores and other general housekeeping needs. Neurons that are overactive for too long accumulate toxic compounds of cellular metabolism including amyloid deposits which can contribute to permanent damage and the eventual demise of those neurons."

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5

Quality Sleep Matters

happy senior man good health wake up in the morning with joy on his bedroom
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"It's also not just about hours of sleep," Dr. Lorenzo reveals. "There are certain conditions where sleep is very inefficient and although people may be in bed for 7-9 hours, their sleep is not deep or is intermittently interrupted. In order for sleep to be efficient and restful, the brain needs to go through certain stages of sleep. These stages occur in 90 minutes cycles and there is a very definite architecture to the way these cycles look over the 7 to 8 hours of a normal sleep period. So, for example, people who have chronic insomnia or are light sleepers, those that snore and have obstructive sleep apnea can spend 8 to 10 hours in sleep and still not get good refreshing deep sleep." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

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