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Sure Signs Of Dementia, According To Doctors

Ignoring these symptoms could endanger your health, and that of others.

Dementia is an age-related disorder that few like to talk about but is too common to ignore: According to the World Health Organization, every year 10 million new cases are diagnosed, and at any given time, 5% to 8% of a population is living with dementia. As with many illnesses, the key to living well is early detection. These are the most common signs of dementia; if you or a loved one is experiencing them, it's a good idea to contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms. 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.


Memory Loss

Memory Disorder

Someone with dementia is likely to experience memory loss as a primary symptom. This may involve recent or important events, names and places, or where they left certain objects. "Memory is almost always an early deficit, but memory problems can be subtle, and an individual may simply be forgetting recent conversations, appointments, or exhibiting a loss of sense of direction when driving," says Thomas C. Hammond, MD, a neurologist with Baptist Health's Marcus Neuroscience Institute in Boca Raton, Florida. 

This type of forgetfulness is more severe and tends to happen more frequently than the kind that may accompany normal aging. For example: It's normal to forget where you've put your keys, then be able to retrace your steps to find them. If retracing steps becomes difficult, that could be a sign of dementia.

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

An early clue to memory loss might involve the affected person's shopping patterns. "Some people with dementia may stock up on household staples they already own, such as toiletry items or makeup," says Jared Heathman, MD, a family psychiatrist in Houston, Texas. "When out shopping, recent purchases of frequently used items are often forgotten. 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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Difficulty With Complex or Familiar Tasks

or woman with papers or bills and calculator writing at home

A person with dementia may being having trouble with reading, writing or complex mental tasks like balancing a checkbook, following directions, or making calculations. Familiar tasks, like paying bills or cooking frequently used recipes, may become difficult, the CDC says. "As 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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Difficulty Communicating

senior woman with adult daughter at home.

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

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Personality Changes

Comforting Senior Husband Suffering With Dementia

"Subtle personality changes are probably the most commonly missed early symptom in dementia," says Hammond. For example, people with early cognitive decline will often begin to isolate themselves. "The patient with early dementia will become apathetic, losing interest in activities they had formerly enjoyed. Family members often attribute these changes to the individual being depressed, anxious or under stress."

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Getting Lost

An old man touches his head. Headache. Alzheimer's disease

A person with dementia may become lost in places that were previously familiar, like in their own neighborhood or on a frequently driven route. They may forget how they got there and how to return home. "Poor orientation to time, place, person or situation, and general confusion" are symptoms to look out for, says Scott Kaiser, MD, a board-certified geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. 

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Coordination Problems

Elderly stroke, Asian older woman suffer fall.

Dementia may cause an affected person to have trouble walking or maintaining coordination or motor skills, says the CDC. They may have difficulty staying balanced or judging distance, tripping over things or dropping items more often. 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