9 Early Signs of Dementia in Older Adults

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mark Hrymoc, M.D.

The signs of dementia in older adults can include memory loss, difficulty with planning or problem-solving, confusion with time or place, and changes in mood or personality. These symptoms may initially appear subtle but gradually worsen, significantly affecting daily life and demanding medical attention for proper diagnosis and care.

The National Institute on Aging reports that millions have Dementia, but it is not a normal part of aging. Dementia is a disease that affects cognitive abilities. In the mildest stage of Dementia, often in the beginning stages, specific symptoms may appear.

In this article, you will learn what dementia is and discover the signs of dementia in older adults. If you or someone you know exhibits one or more symptoms, contact a professional to learn how Neurocognitive treatment can help slow the progression and maintain quality of life.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term that describes a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. It’s not a specific disease but a range of symptoms that may result from various diseases and conditions, most notably Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia impairs cognitive functions such as memory, language, problem-solving, and the ability to perform everyday activities. It can result in emotional changes and difficulties with communication, leading to a substantial decrease in a person’s quality of life.

Early Signs of Dementia in Older Adults

Detecting the early signs of dementia can be a complex process, as the symptoms often develop slowly and may seem like typical age-related changes. To look for early signs of dementia, pay attention to noticeable shifts in memory, thinking, and social behavior that interfere with daily life. Careful observation of these symptoms, especially if they are persistent or progressively worsening, can be vital in seeking early medical intervention. Family members and close friends often notice these changes first.

Here are nine early signs of dementia in older adults:

1. Memory Changes

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain, with one area being where memories are formed. Examples of memory changes include someone needing more time to recall memories, forgetting the names of people, being lost in a place they should know well, being unable to recognize people they should know, and forgetting how to complete simple tasks.

While many people without memory problems occasionally misplace items, miss appointments, and forget why they entered a room, someone with Dementia experiences this often, and the symptoms will interfere with their functioning.

2. Can’t Find the Right Words

Someone who usually has no trouble finding the right words to say or talk in complete sentences may struggle with this if they have the early signs of Dementia. They may experience the inability to form a sentence, or it may take them much longer to do so. Other language changes include a person with Dementia substituting words for things they cannot remember. They may forget the second or third languages they learned and revert to their native language. They may also struggle to comprehend what others are saying.

3. Personality Changes

Early signs of Dementia may include changes in mood or personality. Patients may shift quickly from being happy and friendly to angry or depressed. The change is unexpected, and there is not usually a reason for the shift. Other personality changes may include loss of empathy, paranoia, delusions, lack of motivation, and difficulty making decisions.

4. Can’t Complete Tasks

As Dementia progresses, a person’s ability to complete tasks or activities of daily living (ADLs) may be impaired. Signs may include forgetting how to dress in the correct order. Some may wear underwear over their pants. Others may wear mismatched clothes, forget where the toothbrush is stored, forget how to bathe, dressinappropriately for the season, or forget how to use kitchen appliances they have used many times.

5. Repetitive Behaviors

The Alzheimer’s Research Association (ARA) reports that a decline of functioning neurons in the brain makes it hard for someone with Dementia to remember what they have said or done, causing them to repeat words and behaviors. Repetition may also be a way for someone to communicate that something is wrong in their environment. It’s important to pay attention to what is being repeated rather than brush it off. The ARA suggests repetition may be due to a person feeling anxious, fearful, or confused. Trouble Managing Money

Balancing a checkbook, forgetting which bills were paid, and erratic spending are a few examples of how someone with Dementia may struggle managing money. Research shows common behaviors include missed credit card payments and falling for scams. It is noted that financial troubles can begin years before someone gets a diagnosis of Dementia, making observations by friends and family extremely important.
If this early sign of Dementia is overlooked, a person can experience financial hardship. Getting a person with dementia financial help as soon as possible can help them avoid money troubles.

6. Poor Judgment

In the early stages of Dementia, you may notice that one makes poor decisions. One example of poor judgment is when someone with Dementia enters dangerous situations without fear. They don’t realize they could be in danger. If driving, they may run red lights. They may misbehave in social settings, wander into active work zones, or run away from home in the middle of the night.

7. Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors

Not everyone with the early signs of Dementia will display obsessive-compulsive behaviors that were not previously present. This is one reason many receive a diagnosis of OCD long before their dementia diagnosis. As Dementia progresses, the OCD will worsen. Examples of OCD behaviors include rituals of washing hands, checking, praying, repeating words, or turning buttons on and off. Some rituals may appear in places outside the home, like if every time you visit the grocery store, they must count the apples before they can begin shopping.

8. Reduced Gaze

An early sign of Dementia is when someone stares randomly for long periods. Dementia affects how well someone can move their eyes, preventing someone from being able to read correctly. This symptom is caused by cognitive decline due to dysfunction of brain circuitry controls eye movements. Facial and eye movements are an essential part of evaluating someone for Dementia.
Other eye changes associated with Dementia can be blurred vision, slower adjustment to light, trouble assessing distances, problems shifting gaze, and perceptual issues, like recognizing faces, colors, or objects.

Treatment for Early Signs of Dementia

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for those with the early signs of Dementia and for their family and friends. Meeting with a psychiatrist or licensed therapist can help people accept the diagnosis, improve self-esteem, adapt to changes that must be made, and develop a support system consisting of dementia-related resources. They set goals and steps to achieving goals. They can also learn numerous self-care skills to help them slow the disorder’s progression. CBT helps people stay present and focused on what they can do to improve their situation.

To learn more about how mental health treatment can help a person in the early stages of Dementia, and their family, contact the Mental Health Center today.