Recognizing Early Signs of Dementia

As our loved ones age, it’s normal to see some small changes in behavior, routine, or memory.  Simple things like forgetting to get regular oil changes or remembering how to record their favorite show on the television are common, but typical, age-related “errors”.  However, when these errors become more frequently occurring and begin to affect day to day life, it may be time to pay close attention.  It’s important that we monitor our loved ones and recognize the early warning signs of dementia.  Below, we’ve outlined the 9 most prevalent signs of dementia to look for in your loved ones.


  1. Memory Loss that Affects Daily Abilities

This may be the most common and well recognized sign of dementia, especially in the early stages.  Recall and short-term memory are affected, causing your loved one to have trouble remembering names, important dates, events, and recently learned information.  They may ask the same questions or tell the same stories over and over again within the same conversation.


  1. Trouble Performing Daily Tasks

Going to the store, making a grocery list, following a recipe, or paying monthly bills may become challenging, when they were once tasks that required little thought.  Usually, this would involve activities that have been completed on a day-to-day basis, throughout their lives, with ease.  They may now have trouble completing the steps to accomplish these tasks or may even forget to do them all together.


  1. Increased Confusion

When a familiar time, place, or face seems foreign to your loved one, they may be exhibiting signs of dementia.  Recognizing the time of day, day of the week, or even month of the year is generally easily accomplished but can prove to be difficult for those struggling with dementia.  They may not understand why an event is not happening now or have trouble understanding elapsed time.  Likewise, the same can be said for a familiar location– perhaps it’s the church they’ve attended for all of their lives, or a loved one’s home that seems like an unfamiliar place.  Dementia patients can feel lost in their own neighborhood or even on their own street.  Your loved one may even seem to forget acquaintances, neighbors, doctors, or other members of the community.  As dementia advances, they may sadly be unable to recall close family members and friends.


  1. Poor Judgment/Decision Making 

We all slip up from time to time and make some “not so great” decisions, however, those with dementia have trouble with the decision-making process on a daily basis.  They may neglect their personal hygiene, wear clothes that are not weather-appropriate, or make irresponsible financial choices.  If you notice behavior that seems irrational or out of character, you may be witnessing this early sign of dementia in your loved one. As the dementia journey progresses care needs to keep your loved one safe may change also.  Thankfully families have a wide range of options from facilities to 24-hour in home care services.


  1. Changes in Mood or Personality

If your sweet, level-headed grandmother suddenly seems irritable, upset, angry, confused, irrational, or suspicious, start paying close attention to the changes.  There may be a reason for her moodiness. Oftentimes these behaviors or changes in personality are a reaction to their newly acquired confusion.


  1. Reduced Concentration

Staying focused on a particular task and completing it in a timely manner may be a sign of dementia.  One may become easily distracted or have trouble following simple steps or directions for a common activity, such as following a recipe or making the bed.  This is a result of disrupted cognitive abilities that cause decreased attention span and an inability to concentrate.


  1. Difficulty with Language

You may watch your loved one fumble on the words needed to complete a thought or recall a particular word.  Simple words that are common to their everyday language may become impossible for them to get off the tip of their tongue.  They may try to use descriptive language or a replacement word to take the place of an otherwise familiar word.


  1. Frequently Misplacing Things

We all misplace our keys, cell phones, or shoes on a regular basis, but when items are constantly misplaced and discovered in obscure or inappropriate places, this may be a sign that something is off.  For instance, if you find the remote control in the kitchen cabinet, a gallon of milk in the closet, or earrings in the coffee canister, this may be a red flag.


  1. Loss of Interest or Initiative

At some point in time, we all lose interest in mundane tasks or lack the motivation to complete chores that we know need completing.  However, those with dementia may lose the initiative all together for common housework such as taking out the trash or cleaning the dishes in the sink.  Social outings and obligations may be of zero interest to them and require prompting to attend.


If you believe your loved one may be exhibiting early signs of dementia, it is important to set up an appointment with their physician to address these concerns.  Early intervention is important for their safety and wellbeing.  This form is a wonderful resource to help document your concerns and guide your conversation with their doctor.