Dementia is not a single disease. Rather, the term refers to a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, affecting memory, cognition, and brain function.
While dementia most commonly occurs in people above the age of 65, it can develop much earlier. In fact, people have been known to develop signs of dementia as early as age 30! While this isn’t common, it’s important to recognize the early signs of dementia.
Early detection can spell the difference between effective treatment and losing independence and self-awareness. But it can be tricky to recognize the early signs of dementia, since they don’t always present in a familiar way!
In this article, we’ll outline the most common early signs of dementia and how they may appear.
What Symptoms of Dementia Typically Appear First?
Dementia is most commonly depicted as extreme forgetfulness, but it doesn’t start out that way.
Memory loss is one of many early symptoms, but it starts out small — usually by forgetting appointments, losing items, or getting lost going to familiar places.
- Other signs and symptoms for dementia include:
- Difficulty staying organized
- Forgetting vocabulary
- Repeating oneself
- Loss of sense of time and spatial awareness
- Changes in mood or personality
- Becoming anxious or withdrawn
- Difficulty concentrating
One of the most obvious and well-known signs of dementia is memory loss, but it’s not as simple or easy to notice as you might think.
People in the early stages of dementia might first have their short-term memory affected.
Examples of short-term memory loss include:
- Forgetting appointments or important dates
- Losing train of thought while speaking
- Forgetting to do basic daily tasks such as showering or making dinner
- Forgetting names or words
- Asking the same questions repeatedly
- Needing frequent reminders for appointments, dates, and tasks
People in the early stages of dementia might have difficulty keeping their appointments or household tasks straight. This can result in disorganization and other complications.
- Examples of planning struggles include:
- Being unable to keep track of a calendar
- Falling behind on paying bills
- Difficulty following instructions, even written ones
- Forgetting where essential household items are
Another early sign of dementia is losing information about familiar tasks, places, or people. Even though these are normal parts of their life, they suddenly find themselves struggling to retain information about them.
Examples of losing familiarity might include:
- Getting lost on the way to a place they have driven many times before
- Getting confused by organizational systems in their home
- Forgetting the rules of a favorite board game
- Struggling to use common tools around the house, such as a microwave or a remote control
Struggles With Words or Conversations
Changes in speech patterns and abilities are another one of dementia early symptoms. People might forget common vocabulary or invent their own words because they can’t recall the real ones.
Similarly, they may struggle to keep up a conversation, losing the thread of discussion or repeating themselves.
Other examples might include:
- Asking the same question over and over
- Not understanding how to continue a conversation naturally
- Stopping suddenly while speaking and not knowing how to go on
- Using incorrect or made-up words that makes them difficult to understand
Confusion About Time
People showing the first signs of dementia may also become confused about time. They might not understand how long ago an event occurred or how soon another one will happen.
In other words, they may struggle to understand time beyond what is happening in the immediate moment. For example, they might hear that a birthday party is happening the next week and start getting dressed to go immediately.
Loss of Spatial Awareness
People in the early stages of dementia may lose their sense of spatial awareness. This might be easiest to notice in the car, as they misjudge how far a stoplight is, cut other cars off, or take sharp turns.
This can also become dangerous and increase the risk of accidents.
Losing Personal Belongings
Becoming more forgetful may cause a person to lose track of their personal belongings more frequently, or absentmindedly place them in strange places.
While everyone loses their things sometimes, a person in the early stages of dementia may frequently forget where they set their belongings down, even if they just had them. They are likely to put items in odd places, such as the refrigerator or cabinet.
Mood Shifts and Personality Changes
People who are developing dementia may start to exhibit sudden mood swings or even personality changes. Some of this is related to the frustration of losing mental faculties and independence. But it also has to do with the changes that are taking place in their brain.
Examples of dementia-related mood shifts or personality changes include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Emotional volatility — becoming extremely upset or angry out of nowhere
- Paranoia or suspicion
- Irritability, especially in new environments
- Difficulty concentrating
People with dementia may start to exhibit poor judgment, making impetuous or illogical choices. This can seriously affect their safety, financial security, privacy, and other aspects of their life.
- Examples of poor judgment related to dementia include:
- Losing the ability to clean or groom themselves; poor hygiene
- Making irresponsible financial decisions
- Choosing clothing that is inappropriate for the weather, such as wearing a sweater when it is very hot
- Not noticing or getting treatment for an urgent medical problem
Early Signs of Dementia vs Normal Aging
So how do you differentiate between the first signs of dementia and a person simply becoming older?
Ultimately, it comes down to consistency. We all occasionally forget someone’s name or misplace our keys. But if these things are happening so frequently that they are disrupting daily life, it may indicate dementia.
If you are concerned that you or a loved one is exhibiting the early signs of dementia, it’s vital to seek prompt treatment. Catching these diseases in their early stages can drastically change the outcome for the rest of a person’s life.
North Star Seniors Advisors is ready to help you learn all the information you need about memory care and assisted living!