Skip to content

7 Signs Someone May Have Dementia According to Experts

Early symptoms of dementia doctors want you to know about.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Almost 14 million Americans are projected to have dementia by 2060, according to the CDC. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, accounting for two-thirds of dementia. "Alzheimer's is a heart-breaking disease," says Yale Medicine's Christopher van Dyck, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist who conducts research in the Alzheimer's Disease Research Unit. "Dementia is a decline in cognitive function that impairs daily living, to a point where a person is no longer independent." Here are seven signs of dementia doctors want you to be aware of. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Memory Loss

Portrait of a worried mature woman having problems with her finances

Memory loss is one of the most common signs of dementia, doctors warn. "As we get older, and as part of the aging process, the speed at which we process information slows, as well as our ability to multitask," says Seyed Ahmad Sajjadi, MD, PhD. "Frequent forgetfulness, on the other hand, is not normally expected with aging alone. Memory problems, especially when they become noticeable to family and friends, can be an indicator of a more serious issue."



Senior Hispanic Man Suffering With Dementia Trying To Dress

Confusion about familiar things—for example forgetting names—should never be ignored. "When the degree and frequency of these problems reach a certain limit, people will start wondering if what is happening to them is abnormal," says Dr. Sajjadi. "For example, it is normal for people to forget the name of somebody they do not see that often. But this information eventually should come back to them. If it does not come back, or they have no recollection of things that they are expected to remember, that's the time we should start getting concerned."


Personality Changes

Memory Disorder

Unexplained personality changes could be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease. "Most people think of Alzheimer's as primarily a memory disorder, but we do know from years of research that it also can start as a behavioral issue," says Nina Silverberg, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Centers program at the National Institute on Aging.


Change In Sense Of Humor

Senior woman in consultation with her female doctor or therapist

Change in sense of humor is another possible sign of dementia. "As sense of humor defines us and is used to build relationships with those around us, changes in what we find funny has impacts far beyond picking a new favorite TV show," says Camilla Clark, MD. "We've highlighted the need to shift the emphasis from dementia being solely about memory loss… As well as providing clues to underlying brain changes, subtle differences in what we find funny could help differentiate between the different diseases that cause dementia. Humor could be a particularly sensitive way of detecting dementia because it puts demands on so many different aspects of brain function, such as puzzle solving, emotion and social awareness."


Age As a Risk Factor

Portrait of worried senior man sitting on sofa in living room

The risk of getting dementia goes up significantly with age, doctors warn. "The greatest risk factor is age," says Dr. van Dyck. "Among U.S. men and women ages 65 to 75, about 3% have Alzheimer's; for ages 75 to 85, between 10 to 15% live with the disease; and for those older than 85, approximately 35% have it."


Sleep Disorders

older couple sleeping peacefully

Sleep disorders could be a sign of Lewy body dementia, doctors warn. "We can diagnose the sleep disorder with a sleep study. And there's a high chance that a person with this disorder will develop LBD (Lewy Body Dementia) or Parkinson's disease," says neurologist James Leverenz, MD. "Often when someone comes in for an evaluation, and we ask about sleep disturbances, the bed partner says, 'Oh, they've been doing that for years.'


Hallucinations and Paranoia

woman trouble sleeping while dealing with menopause

Hallucinations are another common symptom of Lewy body dementia. "It becomes problematic when people start believing their visual hallucinations are true," says Dr. Leverenz. "If they call the police or can't fall asleep because they're scared, we may need to manage this symptom."

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