Aug 30, 2023

What are the signs of dementia in the elderly?

Manny Cominsky

Dementia is a condition that affects millions of seniors worldwide. It is not a disease itself but a collection of symptoms caused by various underlying diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Recognizing the early signs of dementia in an elderly loved one is crucial for early intervention and support. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the common early symptoms of dementia and provide guidance on how to spot them in your senior loved ones.

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a condition characterized by a decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning skills. It is important to note that not all forgetfulness or memory loss is indicative of dementia, as some degree of memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, when memory loss begins to disrupt daily life and affects a person's ability to carry out familiar tasks, it could be a sign of dementia.

What Causes Dementia?

Dementia is typically caused by damage to the brain, which can be a result of various diseases. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, frontotemporal lobe dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies. It is essential to identify the specific cause of dementia to provide appropriate care and support.

Is Dementia a Natural Part of Aging?

Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a natural part of the aging process. While some cognitive decline is expected with age, significant memory loss and cognitive impairment are not typical. It is crucial to recognize the early signs of dementia to differentiate them from normal age-related changes and seek medical intervention.

Common Early Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause and the specific area of the brain affected. However, there are some common early signs to watch out for in your elderly loved ones. These symptoms may be subtle at first but can gradually worsen over time.

Memory Loss: Memory loss is one of the hallmark symptoms of dementia. However, it is important to distinguish between normal age-related memory lapses and significant memory impairment. In the early stages of dementia, individuals may forget recently learned information, important dates, or ask repetitive questions. They may also rely more on memory aids or family members to handle tasks they used to manage independently.

Difficulty with Daily Tasks: Elderly individuals with early signs of dementia may struggle to perform familiar tasks. This can include difficulties in planning, problem-solving, and following routines. They may find it challenging to cook a meal, follow a recipe, or manage their finances. Tasks that were once second nature may now require more time and effort to complete.

Communication and Language Problems: Language difficulties are another common early sign of dementia. Seniors may have trouble finding the right words, following conversations, or substituting inappropriate words. They may struggle to express themselves clearly, making it challenging for others to understand them.

Disorientation to Time and Place: Individuals with dementia may become disoriented and confused about time and place. They may lose track of dates, seasons, and have difficulty understanding time passing. Additionally, they may forget where they are or how they got there, even in familiar surroundings.

Changes in Mood and Behavior: Mood swings and behavioral changes are common in individuals with dementia. They may experience sudden shifts in mood, ranging from calmness to tears or anger, without an apparent reason. These changes can be challenging for both the individual and their caregivers.

Impaired Judgment and Decision-Making: Dementia can affect an individual's judgment and decision-making abilities. They may make poor decisions that put their health and safety at risk. This can include neglecting medical problems, wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather, or exhibiting poor financial judgment.

Problems with Abstract Thinking: Abstract thinking and problem-solving skills may be impaired in individuals with early dementia. They may struggle with tasks requiring numbers, such as using a calculator or managing finances. Understanding abstract concepts and applying them in real-life situations may become increasingly challenging.

Misplacing Items: Misplacing items and difficulty retracing steps is a common occurrence in individuals with dementia. They may put things in unusual places and struggle to locate them later. This can lead to accusations of theft or suspicion towards others as the disease progresses.

Withdrawal from Social Activities: As dementia progresses, individuals may withdraw from social activities and hobbies they once enjoyed. They may have difficulty engaging in conversations, following along with favorite activities, or lose interest in family and social obligations.

Changes in Personality: Personality changes can occur in individuals with dementia. They may exhibit behaviors that are out of character, such as becoming more fearful, suspicious, or exhibiting a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities. These changes can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones.

Challenges with Visual and Spatial Information: Some individuals with dementia may experience difficulties with visual perception and spatial relationships. They may have trouble judging distances, navigating spaces, or correctly placing objects. Vision changes, such as double vision, may also be present, warranting a visit to a doctor and eye specialist.

Seeking Medical Assessment

If you notice several of these early signs of dementia in your elderly loved one, it is crucial to consult a doctor for a complete assessment. Early detection and diagnosis can help in developing a care plan and accessing appropriate support services. There are several medical assessments that doctors may use to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of dementia.

Cognitive Screening

Cognitive screening is often the first step in assessing dementia symptoms. It involves a series of questions and tests to evaluate memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities. The results can provide valuable insights into a person's cognitive status and help guide further assessments.

Neuropsychological Testing

Neuropsychological testing is a more comprehensive assessment that evaluates a person's cognitive abilities in greater detail. It involves a series of standardized tests that measure memory, attention, language, and problem-solving skills. These tests provide a more in-depth understanding of an individual's cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Imaging of the Brain

Brain imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, can help identify any structural abnormalities or changes in the brain. These scans can provide valuable information about the underlying cause of dementia symptoms.

Blood Work

Blood tests may be conducted to assess various factors that can contribute to memory loss and cognitive decline. These tests can help identify any underlying medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders or metabolic problems, that may be causing or worsening dementia symptoms.

Encouraging Medical Assessment

It is not uncommon for individuals to resist seeking medical assessment for dementia symptoms. However, there are strategies that can help make the process easier and encourage your loved one to seek professional help.

Open and Honest Communication

Start by having open and honest conversations with your loved one about the changes you have noticed in their behavior and cognition. Express your concern and emphasize the importance of seeking medical assessment for proper evaluation and support.

Emotional Support and Reassurance

Understand that the process of accepting and facing potential dementia diagnosis can be emotionally challenging for both the individual and their family. Offer emotional support, reassurance, and be patient throughout the assessment process.

Accompanying Your Senior Loved One

Offer to accompany your loved one to their doctor's appointments. Your presence can provide comfort and support, and you can help relay any concerns or observations to the healthcare professionals.

Explaining the Benefits of Early Intervention

Educate your loved one about the benefits of early intervention and timely diagnosis. Early detection allows for better access to support services, treatment options, and the ability to plan for the future.

Recognizing the early signs of dementia in an elderly loved one is crucial for their well-being and quality of life. By understanding the common symptoms and seeking medical assessment, you can provide the necessary support and care they need. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference in managing dementia and improving overall outcomes. If you have concerns about your elderly loved one's cognitive health, consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation.

To learn more about how Sunbound can help make senior care more affordable for you or your loved one, send us an email at or request more information on Sunbound. Sunbound is the best way to pay for senior living and senior care and is on a mission to make senior living affordable for everyone.

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