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Silent Symptoms of Dementia Over 50s Need to Know

Early detection can make all the difference in treatment.

Knowing the symptoms of dementia—which affects 5.8 million Americans—is key in early treatment, experts say. "We don't diagnose Alzheimer's until the brain has degenerated to the point of dysfunction… that has to change," says Rudolph Tanzi, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the McCance Center for Brain Health at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Once you have symptoms, the brain is on fire with neuroinflammation. We have to become as proactive about Alzheimer's disease as we are about heart disease, diabetes and other age-related diseases." Here are five silent symptoms of dementia all seniors should be aware of. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss Already Had COVID? These Symptoms May "Never Go Away".


Memory Loss and Confusion

Pensioner reading message on mobile phone

Memory loss and confusion—known as mild cognitive impairment—are often the earliest signs of dementia, and should never be ignored. "The most common sign is a memory problem, and it's usually episodic, meaning that it's hard to remember events in your life, past and present," says Dr. David Caplan, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School

"Everyone has these experiences sometimes, but if they frequently happen to you or someone you love, they may be early signs of Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Scott M. McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.


Changes In Mood, Behavior, and Personality

senior man looking out window

Unexplained changes in mood and personality could be a sign of dementia, doctors warn. "Observational studies have found that people with these behavior changes are more likely to develop cognitive issues," says Dr. Seth Gale, a neurologist with Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It may be that these changes are a reflection of early development of plaques and tangles, but this is not entirely clear. Still, it's a good idea to have symptoms like these checked out by your doctor."


Does Dementia Run in the Family?

Family dinner

People with a family history of Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease themselves, doctors say. "This doesn't mean you will get Alzheimer's, but it puts you at a higher risk, and you should be more aware of the early signs and symptoms," says Dr. Gale.


Can Dementia Be Detected Early?


Dementia can be detected early, using methods such as cognitive screening tests. "The earlier we diagnose a patient, the better the options we have to treat their symptoms," says neurologist Douglas Scharre, MD. "We have numerous treatments that can slow cognitive decline, but they're more effective the sooner we can begin deploying them."


How Is Dementia Detected?

Portrait of a mature female doctor standing in a hospital.

"Your doctor will conduct a series of tests to determine the severity and cause of your symptoms," says Dr. Scharre. "These may include brain-imaging tests or other lab tests. Your doctor will also work to rule out other possible causes, such as previous strokes or Parkinson's disease. Doctors might also speak with family members to determine whether your behavior has changed recently, or to assess the frequency of symptoms." 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.

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
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