Dementia is not a disease, rather it is a collection of many symptoms that suggest the presence of a brain disorder. The term is often used to refer generally to a decline in cognitive ability and memory problems.
It occurs when healthy neurons (nerve cells) stop working or brain cells get damaged and die. Many factors put a person at risk of developing dementia, such as aging and family history.
Other risk factors include heavy alcohol use, excessive smoking, atherosclerosis, high as well as low blood pressure, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, depression, diabetes, high estrogen levels, elevated blood levels of homocysteine (an amino acid produced by your body).
There are many different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), Parkinson’s disease, mixed dementia, and frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Each type of dementia has its own specific signs and symptoms. However, in the initial stage, they show some common symptoms.
Here are the top 10 early signs and symptoms of dementia.
1. Subtle Short-Term Memory Loss
One of the first signs that indicate a cognitive problem is memory loss. In the case of dementia, people especially suffer from short-term memory loss in the early stage.
For instance, they may forget recent events, forget the name of a person they know or a celebrity, or not be able to remember routes or places.
Due to this memory loss, they may ask the same questions a number of times.
This happens due to brain damage resulting from inflammation and other biological changes that disrupt communication between brain cells.
A 2015 study published in the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) states that people who have dementia may begin to lose awareness of their memory problems a couple of years before the actual onset of the disease.
The memory loss can gradually become severe enough to disrupt daily life.
2. Difficulty Communicating Thoughts
Another early indicator of dementia is having difficulty communicating ideas and thoughts. In simple terms, it means the person is having problems explaining things to others.
There may be difficulties with verbal and written communication. A lack of depth and logic in conversation may also be apparent.
This can be associated with memory loss, such as the person forgetting the name of the person with whom he or she is talking, or even forgetting simple words.
Thus, having a conversation with someone suffering from dementia can be quite difficult and time consuming.
3. Getting Confused Often
During the initial stage, a person may often show signs of confusion as well as lack of concentration. Due to memory loss and difficulty with communication, confusion arises. Confusion can occur in regards to time and place.
For instance, dementia patients may get confused regarding the present, past and future. They may even forget where they are or how they got there.
Along with confusion, they may have difficulty concentrating and may take more time to do things than they did before.
Gradually, the phase of confusion may develop into delirium.
4. Misplacing Things
It is fine if you misplace your things, such as car keys or your mobile phone, once in a while. But when a person more frequently misplaces things and cannot remember where to find them, it may indicate some kind of cognitive problem, including dementia.
During the early stage of dementia, people not only misplace things but even keep their things in unusual places. They also lose the ability to retrace their steps. When they cannot find things, they sometimes accuse other people of taking them.
If you misplace something but can retrace your steps to find the lost item, then it may simply be due to advancing age, not dementia.
5. Rapid Agitation and Mood Swings
Changes in mood and becoming increasingly depressed, suspicious, fearful or anxious can also indicate dementia. Mild depression is common among people with dementia.
A 2012 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry notes that depression that begins late in life increases the risk of developing dementia.
Due to frequent mood swings, there also may be changes in the person’s personality. For instance, one can become outgoing rather than shy in nature. The person also may get easily upset when out of their comfort zone or when a routine is disrupted.
These early signs of mood swings are not easy to recognize in one’s self, but are easily noticeable in others.
6. Difficulty Identifying Humor
Another early sign of dementia is missing sarcasm or an inability to detect sarcasm. Any kind of neurodegenerative disease may chip away the person’s ability to understand and recognize indirect language, such as sarcasm, and even deceit.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease notes that humor may be a sensitive probe of social cognitive impairment in people suffering from dementia.
In fact, humor can be used as an engaging and informative index of social functioning in neurodegenerative diseases.