Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Foundation of America

Dementia Warning Signs

It’s important to see your primary doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing changes in memory, mood, or behavior. Your physician can identify if you or your loved one is exhibiting any warning signs of dementia.

Having a memory problem does not necessarily mean someone has a dementia-related illness. Medical conditions such as stroke, B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, depression and infections can cause dementia-like symptoms and are treatable if diagnosed. If the symptoms are caused by dementia, an early diagnosis can allow for the opportunity to connect with support, education, and medical treatments.

It is important to remember that many of these things can happen to anyone from time to time. Anyone can forget where they put their keys, have sad days, or forget words occasionally. However, if you notice a pattern of these things happening to someone in your life more frequently, it could be cause to speak to someone like a physician, or to sign up for a free, virtual memory screening from AFA.

It is important to note that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia may present differently in each individual person. AFA recommends a person-centered approach, in which one watches out for these warning signs, and works with a care team to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Common warning signs of dementia include:

1) Recent memory loss

A person living with dementia may have frequent memory loss, that impacts their ability to function in their daily life. This could include the name of someone they see frequently, where to find an item they frequently use, or many other instances.

2) Confusion of time and place

Individuals living with dementia may be disoriented to time, place and immediate environment. They may not know where they are, why they’re there, or how they got there. Perhaps they wake up in the middle of the night and get ready for work, even though they’ve been retired for years.

3) Difficulty performing familiar tasks

A person living with dementia might have increased trouble while driving and get lost. This could even happen in familiar areas. They may forget the rules of the road, forget directions, or ignore signs on the road. This poses a danger to themselves and to others. AFA offers more resources on driving and dementia here.

4) Problems with language

Someone living with dementia might have issues with following or initiating a conversation. They may become frustrated, discouraged, or distant if they are unable to remember a word they want to say, or understand what another person is saying.

5) Decreased or poor judgment

We can all make poor decisions once in a while. A person with dementia might make decisions that negatively impact their wellbeing more frequently and start paying less attention to their daily needs.

6) Problems with abstract thinking

It is normal to have difficulty balancing a budget. Someone who has a dementia-related illness might forget what numbers are, or how to add and subtract.

7) Forget where they put things

Everyone misplaces their keys or glasses now and then.  However, one warning sign for dementia can be that a person might repeatedly put their items in places that they do not belong (e.g., keys in the freezer).

8) Changes in mood and personality

Anyone can become sad or moody from time to time. One dementia warning sign can be quick mood changes, such as from calm to anger. They also might start becoming uncomfortable in social situations.

9) Loss of initiative

It is normal to not want to do housework, or work tasks. A person living with dementia may no longer initiate things that they once enjoyed. If you find that a person who once loved to be outside no longer wants to leave the house, this could be a warning sign.

Make an appointment with your primary care physician if you are experiencing changes in your memory, mood, and behavior.

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