As people get older, there's a chance they'll experience age-related forgetfulness, which can include misplacing things around the house, blanking on someone's name, or using the wrong word. And these things can certainly seem like the
early symptoms of dementia. But unless the person's life is majorly impacted, it isn't necessarily the case.
"The main difference between age-related
memory loss and dementia is that in normal aging the forgetfulness does not interfere with your ability to carry on with normal daily activities," Verna R. Porter, MD, neurologist and director of the Alzheimer's Disease Program at Providence Saint John's Health Center, tells Bustle.
It may be frustrating, Dr. Porter says, but the person will still be able to carry on with their day-to-day life. "In contrast, dementia is characterized by marked, persistent, and disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, language, judgment, or abstract reasoning that significantly interfere with and
disrupt your normal daily activities," Dr. Porter says.
While dementia can occur at any age due to various health issues or injuries, it's typically
associated with Alzheimer's disease, and doesn't occur until later in life. Many causes of dementia begin at age 65, and about half of the population will become diagnosed with it if they live past 85, Susan London, LMSW, director of social work at Shore View Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, tells Bustle.
Dementia doesn't affect everyone, but it's still good to know the signs. Read on below for some of the
earliest symptoms of dementia, according to experts.
Forgetting How To Get Home
"An old adage will suggest that if you forgot where you parked your car, you don't necessarily have dementia, but if you don't know how to get home once you find your car, there might be reason to investigate further," London says.
It's common for older folks to have
age-related memory lapses. But remember, that's not necessarily a sign of dementia. "The best way to know the difference is to consider whether or not the memory loss impairs one’s life," London says. If someone's venturing out of the house and getting lost on a regular basis, it may be a sign.
Struggling With Daily Chores
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
"Many people can live safely and independently all the while forgetting small, perhaps insignificant things, like the name of a common actor or where they misplaced their glasses," London says.
It's the larger impairments that tend to be a sign of dementia, such as a person losing the "ability to write out checks, manage their own medication, or maintain safety within their home," London says.
If things like that are beginning to happen, it's important for the person to see a specialist, to figure out what's wrong.
Blanking On Obvious Words
Again, it's common for older folks to momentarily struggle to find a word. But it can, in some cases, be a warning sign. "Someone with early warning signs of dementia may completely forget an obvious word, use an inappropriate word, and may even be difficult to understand," Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of
Amen Clinics, tells Bustle. These are all things that should be evaluated by a specialist. Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock
If someone is struggling to remember the basic steps in a process, such as how to complete their favorite recipe, take note. "A person with early warning signs of dementia may have trouble remembering all the ingredients," Dr. Amen says.
As dementia sets in, a person may experience
intense mood swings more often, Dr. Amen says. A normally sweet or happy person might, for example, become super angry or combative.
They might also seem depressed — a symptom that is
common for people with dementia — or even more outgoing than usual.
"You will also notice that a once shy and reserved person may suddenly become outgoing," Sheila Rae, with
MedAlertHelp, tells Bustle. "This is because the disease also affects one's ability to make sound judgement."
No Longer Enjoying The Same Things
"The most common sign that people see [when] someone is acquiring dementia is that they are not the same person they used to be," Kelly Goble, speech language pathologist and co-founder of
Healthcare Straight Up, tells Bustle. And this can obviously take many forms.
If someone used to enjoy going out and being active, they may no longer want to. Or if they really enjoyed a certain food, they may no longer want to eat it.
"It can be challenging in the initial stages to determine the difference between general aging and dementia," Goble says, "but many times it is the immediate family members who recognize that their loved one's behavior has changed."
Forgetting What They Were About To Do
"We have all had episodes when we feel like we are 'losing our mind,'" Goble says. But for folks with dementia, it might seem like they can't remember anything.
They might have more frequent episodes of walking into a room and forgetting why they're there, Goble says, or picking up the phone to call someone, yet forgetting who they wanted to call and what they wanted to say.
Having Problems With Short-Term Memory
If someone forgot what they ate for breakfast, or where they went an hour ago, take note. "This symptom is often overlooked and perceived as just being forgetful," Rae says. "However, if a person forgets appointments, recent conversations, and where they put things on a daily basis, this is something to be concerned about."
Experiencing Sensory Changes
Struggling With Money Or Math
If a person is momentarily unable to do the mental math necessary in order to pay a check, or if suddenly they
forget how to count change, it could be also be an early warning sign, Dr. Houghton says.
Not Being Able To Finish A Sentence
While everyone occasionally loses their train of thought in the middle of a story, or forgets their overall point, someone with dementia may start to do so all the time.
person afflicted with this disease will start having difficulty expressing their thoughts because they have trouble finding the right words to say," Rae says. And again, it will impact their overall ability to function.
It's not uncommon, as a person ages, for them to forget a distant friend's name, or to blank on a word. But if they are developing dementia, things like this may start to happen more frequently, along with a whole host of other "odd" symptoms that start
negatively impacting their life.