12 Early Warning Signs of Dementia

Dementia is a progressive neurological condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It is characterized by a decline in cognitive abilities, which can manifest as memory loss, difficulty in completing familiar tasks, or changes in behavior and personality. Early recognition of the signs of dementia can lead to timely diagnosis, intervention, and support. This article aims to explore 12 early warning signs of dementia to help individuals identify possible symptoms in themselves or their loved ones.

1. Memory Loss

Memory loss is often an initial indication of dementia, frequently observed in individuals at an early stage. While occasional forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, individuals with dementia often have trouble remembering recent events or important information such as appointments or conversations. They may also repeatedly ask for the same information and rely on family members or reminders to keep track of daily tasks.

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In addition to memory loss, people with dementia may experience difficulty in finding the right words to express themselves or struggle with problem-solving and decision-making. They may also exhibit changes in mood or personality, becoming more irritable, anxious, or withdrawn. As the condition progresses, individuals with dementia may have trouble with basic activities of daily living, such as dressing or eating independently.

It’s important to note that while these symptoms can be indicative of dementia, a proper diagnosis should be made by a medical professional through a comprehensive evaluation. Early detection and intervention can help individuals and their families better manage the condition and plan for the future.

2. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks

Another early sign of dementia is the increasing difficulty in completing familiar tasks. This could manifest as struggling to remember or execute routine activities that were once second nature, such as cooking a favorite meal, dressing oneself, or operating a familiar appliance like a television remote. Individuals with dementia may also experience challenges in following instructions, finding it increasingly difficult to comprehend and carry out simple tasks, even those they have performed countless times before.

Additionally, they may encounter difficulties in organizing their thoughts, leading to heightened confusion and frustration as they navigate through daily life. These difficulties in task completion and cognitive processes can significantly impact their independence and quality of life, as well as cause frustration for their loved ones who witness the changes.

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3. Changes in Behavior and Personality

Dementia can also cause changes in behavior and personality. Individuals with dementia may exhibit increased irritability, agitation, or aggression. They may also become more withdrawn or apathetic, losing interest in familiar activities and hobbies. These changes can be distressing for both the individual and their loved ones, as they may struggle to understand the sudden shifts in behavior.

It’s important to note that these changes are caused by the underlying neurological condition and not a deliberate choice.

4. Confusion and Disorientation

As dementia progresses, individuals may experience increasing levels of confusion and disorientation, especially when they find themselves in new or unfamiliar environments. This can manifest in various ways, such as getting lost even in places that were once familiar and navigating through simple tasks becoming more challenging, like making a cup of tea. In addition to these difficulties, individuals with dementia may also exhibit a diminished sense of time and place, leading to confusion about the current day or season. These changes can be extremely distressing not only for the individuals themselves but also for their loved ones who witness the profound impact that dementia has on their cognitive abilities and overall well-being.

5. Difficulty with Language and Communication

Language and communication difficulties are common in individuals with dementia. As mentioned earlier, they may struggle to find the right words to express themselves, leading to difficulty in maintaining a conversation. They may also have trouble understanding the meaning of words and sentences or comprehending written text. In some cases, individuals with dementia may stop communicating altogether, relying on nonverbal cues or gestures instead.

These changes can be particularly challenging for family members and caregivers who are trying to communicate with their loved ones and provide necessary support. Additionally, these struggles with language and communication can lead to increased isolation and social withdrawal for individuals with dementia.

Related: Dementia vs Alzheimer’s Disease: What’s the difference?

6. Changes in Mood and Emotions

Dementia can also cause significant changes in mood and emotions. Individuals may become increasingly irritable, anxious, or depressed as they experience the changes in their cognitive abilities. They may also exhibit sudden outbursts or mood swings, making it difficult for their loved ones to provide care and support.

It’s important to keep in mind that these changes are not due to personal choices or behavior but rather a result of the underlying neurological condition. Understanding and acknowledging these changes can help individuals with dementia and their families cope better with the challenges they face.

7. Loss of Interest or Apathy

Individuals with dementia may lose interest in activities and hobbies that they once enjoyed. This could be due to a decrease in overall cognitive functioning, as well as changes in mood and emotions. As a result, they may become more socially withdrawn and isolated, leading to feelings of loneliness and sadness.

It’s important for family members and caregivers to continue encouraging individuals with dementia to engage in activities that they enjoy, as it can help improve their overall well-being and quality of life.

8. Difficulty with Motor Skills

In the later stages of dementia, individuals may also experience difficulties with motor skills and movement. This could manifest as a decline in coordination, balance, and muscle strength, leading to difficulties with mobility and self-care. These changes can also increase the risk of falls and other accidents, making it crucial for individuals with dementia to receive proper care and supervision from their loved ones or caregivers.

9. Inability to Recognize Familiar Faces

As dementia progresses, individuals may have trouble recognizing familiar faces, including those of their family members and friends. This can be particularly distressing for both the individual and their loved ones, as it can affect the quality of their relationships and connections with others.

It’s important for family members and caregivers to be understanding and patient when interacting with individuals with dementia who may struggle to recognize them. It can also be helpful to use visual aids or cueing techniques to help improve recognition and communication.

10. Changes in Sleep Patterns

Finally, dementia can also cause changes in sleep patterns. Individuals may experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to disrupted sleep cycles and daytime drowsiness. These changes can affect their overall health and well-being, as adequate rest is essential for proper cognitive functioning.

Caregivers should be aware of these changes and work with healthcare professionals to develop strategies that can help improve sleep patterns for individuals with dementia. This could include creating a comfortable and calming sleeping environment, establishing a regular bedtime routine, and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine close to bedtime.

11. Inability to smell strong odors

In addition to the common symptoms mentioned above, individuals with dementia may also experience a decrease in their sense of smell. This can occur due to damage in the areas of the brain responsible for processing smells.

This loss of smell can affect an individual’s ability to perceive and enjoy different foods and can also lead to safety concerns, as they may not be able to smell potentially dangerous odors such as smoke or gas. It’s important for caregivers to take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of individuals with dementia in their home environment.

12. Stumbling and falling when climbing stairs

Individuals with dementia may also experience difficulties with spatial awareness, making it challenging for them to navigate through different environments. This can increase their risk of stumbling and falling on stairs, especially if they have difficulty judging distance or depth.

Caregivers should take necessary measures to ensure the safety of individuals with dementia when using stairs, such as installing handrails or providing assistance when climbing


Dementia can have far-reaching effects on an individual’s life, causing changes in behavior, mood, cognition, and physical functioning. It’s important for family members and caregivers to be aware of these changes and understand that they are a result of the underlying neurological condition. With proper support, understanding, and care, individuals with dementia can continue to live fulfilling lives and maintain connections with their loved ones. So, it’s crucial to provide them with the necessary support and assistance to help them navigate through this challenging journey. Let us all strive towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with dementia, where they can feel safe, understood, and valued. Remember to always approach them with empathy, patience, and understanding, as this can go a long way in improving their quality of life.

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