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Forgetting This One Thing Can Mean You've Got Dementia

"I would be concerned, or I would be concerned about a family member, who keeps on" doing the following.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Forgetting things here and there is one thing, but how do you know if you, or someone you know, may have dementia? Dr. Anne Constantino, neurologist at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, spoke with the medical network as a part of its Ask the Doctor Lunch & Learn series, with a focus on memory loss, forgetfulness, and dementia. In it, she helpfully listed 10 signs that you or someone you love may have dementia. Read on for all of them—it's fascinating stuff—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Dementia?

older man with dementia talking to doctor
Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

"What is dementia? It's a big term. It's an umbrella diagnosis and it is what we call a syndrome." Meaning: "it's a combination of many other symptoms" especially the "element of memory," says Dr. Constantino. "I forget things. I lost my keys and I don't know, I can't find it, I know it was there. So questions of memory: I don't remember what date it is today. Thinking processes. Behavior," she continued, "and the ability to perform activities that you used to are all affected when people have dementia." There are a few kinds of dementia:

  • "Alzheimer's disease is just one form of dementia. Actually it is the most common form of dementia, and it affects around 60 to 70% of cases.
  • There is another disease which has other symptoms of Parkinson's disease like tremor and problems with difficulty thinking, and hallucination, It's called Lewy body disease
  • There is also one called frontotemporal dementia, which people become more agitated and have behavioral issues. 
  • There is vascular dementia, which is secondary to strokes, mainly in the frontal lobe or any part of the cortex."


Forgetting This Kind of Stuff is OK

Don't Forget Notice Reminder Words

"Age doesn't make you forgetful," said the doctor. "So it doesn't matter what age you are. You can be forgetful. It is the amount of things you have to remember. Some are stupid things that you have to remember. Do I have to remember the name of a singer who I knew like 10 years ago or 20 years ago? And then you freak out because you don't remember it. So those are the things that we have to think about when we talk about dementia versus memory." 

So how to distinguish between forgetfulness and dementia? "First of all, not all forgetfulness is dementia and forgetfulness—you can forget some details. For example, I know I have an appointment today, but I forgot the time. So that's okay. You can look at your schedule book, you know where to find your, your book and you retrieve that information. …That is acceptable."

It also is not likely dementia if "you are aware of your memory loss. This is most important because people who are forgetful are aware that they have memory loss, which means they have insight into a severe disease."


This is a Sign Someone May Have Dementia

Female neighbor giving senior woman a lift In car.

So if you're just forgetful, you may forget you have an appointment. With someone who may have dementia, "they do not only forget that they have an appointment—I mean that they don't know when the appointment is, but they forget they even have an appointment and they cannot recall anything: You tell them that, 'Uh, mom, you left her key in the car' and she forgot that you even told her that she left her key. The other thing also about dementia is that you don't know that you have memory loss, you keep on denying it. 'I don't have memory loss. I'm okay.' So those are the things that maybe a key or a that's a clue that you're dealing with someone who's demented, rather than someone who's just forgetful." Read on for the full list of signs you or someone you know if getting dementia. "I would be concerned, or I would be concerned about a family member, who keeps on" doing the following, says Dr. Constantino:


You May Forget Special Days

senior woman with adult daughter at home.

"Forgetting even the special days, their birthdays, they forget it's their birthday. They forget their favorite son's birthday. They forget that it's Christmas. So those are very common things. They don't even know what occasion it is."

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You May Misplace Objects

Man looking for a missing item under sofa.

"Not recalling or knowing where they placed things that they usually do know they placed there. Like, for example, they put their shoes in the shoe rack, but then they do not recall that their shoes are in the shoe rack. They will look in the refrigerator, somewhere else—and sometimes, spouses find things in odd places."


You May Forget Recent Incidents

Tired mature woman take off glasses suffering from headache

"They forget about an incident soon, afterwards, like they were going to the shopping mall, they bought something. They don't remember that they even got into the shopping mall." Or: "Not remembering stories or movies that you have watched. If you just watched the movie yesterday and you don't know about it." Or you are "unable to learn new activities."

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You May Repeat Questions

Concerned aged mother and adult daughter sit on couch having serious conversation

"Then another key also, and this has been a study that was done: People who keep on repeating questions. They ask their spouses or ask their children. Did I say that? Or what did you say again? Did you tell me that? So those are clues that it may be something leading to dementia."

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You Can't Do Chores

Woman washing dishes.

"Unable to do daily chores that you were finding easily done before. So if you have difficulty with them or if a family member has difficulty with them, then I would suspect something may be wrong."

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You Repeat Stories

Senior woman conducting an interview

"Repeating stories. If your mom just told you a story like 10 minutes ago, and then she repeats it, then I will be concerned if she told you the next day, oh, you know, I had this, experience—if it becomes more frequent and consistently, and then you tell her mom, I think you told that to me. And then she tells it to you again, then that's a red flag."

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You're Anxious Too Often or Lose Impulse Control

Elderly couple arguing.

"They become anxious too often. They have loss of control, all of their impulses. If they want to buy something, they buy something. There are people who spend tons of money. Buying the same things all over. Like I just had a patient who kept on buying groceries when they only have already a whole closet of bathroom tissue, and she would still buy tissue paper. So those are red flags." Or: "They lose the control of their impulses. They lose the control to hold back their anger or their happiness, or even, you know, they, they just jump into something. They eat a lot, they binge eat, they binge drink. And these are people who never did that."


You are Socially Inappropriate

Middle age grey-haired woman wearing casual clothes standing at home shocked covering mouth with hands.

"Social appropriateness. If you're inappropriate and you talk to someone and it's really very embarrassing, it embarrasses people, that may be something that is not right."

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You are Imagining Things

Senior woman feels pain in head

"You have perceptions that people don't see, so people can have hallucinations, they could have delusions. Or they say, oh, I saw the President, talked to me this morning. Or I saw, like, a whole group of people who were clapping their hands when I talk. Or maybe as simple as, I talked to my son—when the son is in another country or this in another place where there is no access to communication."


What to Do if This Sounds like You or Someone You Know

Mature woman with her doctor in ambulance talking about healthcare

Does this sound like you or a family member? "I would advise you to go to your primary care and just make sure the general blood tests are checked," said Dr. Constantino. "Those can be repleted and it may not be dementia—and then if it still continues, maybe two months, three months, repleting her vitamin D and" say, your mom "still is failing? And you see all the red flags that I talked about? Then maybe have them come see a neurologist and we can tease out what other causes of the memory loss or whether that patient or that family member of yours has dementia." 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.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek