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Silent Symptoms of Dementia Seniors Need to Know

Subtle signs of dementia to pay attention to, experts say. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

More than 55 million people worldwide have dementia–a disorder that affects memory and cognitive functions, according to the World Health Organization. While dementia can happen at a younger age, it mostly affects people over 65 and although there are clear signs to watch out for like poor judgements and memory loss, there's subtle signs that can go unnoticed. "The early signs of dementia can be easily missed if you don't know what to look for," Francine Waskavitz, M.S.,CCC-SLP, IHNC Memory Health Coach tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Here's eight silent signs of dementia to be aware of according to experts we spoke with. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Your Family Doesn't Feel That You Can Attend Appointments Yourself

Comforting Senior Husband Suffering With Dementia

Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies says, "When family members request to be contacted for appointments because they are concerned that their loved one wouldn't keep the appointment—this could be a silent sign of dementia. This is a concern when they don't feel that their loved ones are capable of managing their health care appointments."


Trouble Expressing Oneself Fluently

Woman comforting anxious husband

Dr. Mitchell shares, "Some of my patients with early stages of dementia would take much longer than expected to communicate their questions or concerns. Their explanations would be long-winded, often not very direct, and sometimes confusing. For example, when I had a busy waiting room and a mountain of paperwork and administration work, these long conversations could be challenging to accommodate. In my clinical practice, I did my best to accommodate these patients towards the end of my day so I had more time to spend with them while minimizing the impact on office wait times for other patients."


​​If Your Prescription List is as Long as Your Arm

dementia supplement

Dr. Mitchell explains, "Polypharmacy, or the overuse of medications that typically happens over the years, can be challenging. Therefore, your health care provider must have an up-to-date list of your medications, and periodically you have a medication review so your health care provider can eliminate unnecessary medications and harmful drug interactions and side effects.  Polypharmacy can lead to adverse outcomes, including dementia, though more research is needed to understand this." 



senior woman with adult daughter at home.

Waskavitz says, "Planning and executing tasks used to come easy to you. These days, though, all of the planning, organization and decision-making is utterly exhausting. 

When you're experiencing changes in your mind and memory, remaining organized becomes challenging. Where did I write that appointment down again?

Disorganization and lack of focus is one of the earliest signs of dementia. It holds you back from finishing something you started, has you feeling scatter-brained and leaves you searching for the ever-elusive sticky note you wrote down your grocery list on."


Subtle Memory Loss


Waskavitz reminds us that, "Mild forgetfulness can be normal with aging, however, memory loss is not a normal part of getting older. Seniors must remain vigilant and honest with themselves when it comes to assessing the frequency of "those" moments. If forgetfulness is happening daily or it's changing the way you go about your day: it's an indicator that your forgetfulness may in fact be something more."


Difficulty Word Finding

memory exercises

"Suddenly, the words are always stuck on the tip of your tongue and it's very frustrating," Waskavitz states. "You frequently start and stop while communicating, you lose your train of thought mid-sentence and you can't recall where to pick up the conversation again. Difficulty finding the right words and expressing your thoughts, ideas and feelings can be an early sign of dementia." 



Portrait of a worried mature woman having problems with her finances

Waskavitz asks, "Calm, cool and collected? Not anymore. Anxiety is an early symptom of dementia and it typically settles in when the future becomes uncertain. You're aware that you're having more difficulty with your mind and memory and you're wondering what will happen next. You may also be trying to keep it from family and friends which only perpetuates the feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Seniors should take note of their mood. Any sudden shifts or lingering anxiety and depression that wasn't there before can be a warning sign of dementia." 



Senior woman in consultation with her female doctor or therapist

Waskavitz explains, "As you get older your interests may shift. Maybe you don't care to be in a bowling league any longer. Or perhaps your large garden seems more daunting than rewarding these days. Usually though, once forgotten or outgrown hobbies are replaced with new interests, like joining the book club in your new retirement community. If you're demonstrating feelings of listlessness or a general lack of interest in participating in any activities or events, take note. Apathy is an early sign of dementia and it can manifest by stealing your interest away from your hobbies."

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 about Heather