How to… Spot the Onset of Dementia

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 04 March 2013

Consider these tips to help you spot the early signs and symptoms of dementia in yourself and others.As soon as you forget your keys, the name of that guy you just met, or what you went upstairs for, you worry: Is it Alzheimer’s? Am I in the early stages of dementia?

First of all, here’s how to distinguish between dementia, Alzheimer’s and MCI, or mild cognitive impairment:

Mild cognitive impairment typically precedes Alzheimer’s or dementia, and according to the Alzheimer’s Association, it “causes a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities.” Generally a person with MCI can manage daily life and function independently.

Dementia is essentially the umbrella term under which any type of memory disorder or loss, such as Alzheimer’s, falls. There are more than 50 different types of dementia, from vascular to Lewy Body to Huntington’s to normal pressure hydrocephalus.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia; the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that about 60-80% of dementia cases are considered Alzheimer’s disease.

So whether you’re worried about your failing memory or the losses you’re noticing in a family member or friend, don’t panic at the first forgotten name. Don’t jump to conclusions when the stove is left on or assume that because you’re aging, dementia is inevitable. Instead, consider these tips to help you spot the early signs and symptoms of dementia:

  • This helpful slideshow from EverydayHealth.com includes things like frequent falling, a blank look or excessive staring, ignoring embarrassment, missing sarcasm or jokes, money troubles, and compulsive behaviors, among others. Check out all the signs — and more details on each one — here.
  • The Mayo Clinic’s list of dementia symptoms features paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, difficulty with planning and organizing, and inappropriate behavior, among others. Refer to the full list here.
  • Besides the obvious — memory loss — WebMD lists these early warning signs: language problems, personality changes, poor hygiene, disorientation and confusion, odd behavior, and repetition.
  • Gait, motor and balance problems, faulty reasoning and impaired judgment made Helpguide.org’s round-up of common dementia symptoms.
  • What does the Alzheimer’s Association say? Among their 10 signs to watch are problem-solving difficulties, trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, time and place confusion, social activities/work withdrawal, and losing the ability to retrace steps.
  • Some other early signs of dementia, says this About.com article, include deflection (avoiding the question), multiple written notes, indirect or vague answers/phrases, an error in preparing a long-standing family dish or traditional recipe, and an uncharacteristic reliance on a spouse or other relative. Read the rest here.
  • Jumbling words, new difficulty with filling out complicated forms (like income tax documents), buying items though there may be plenty of them at home, using the wrong word in sentences, impaired recall about completed tasks, constant hunger (particularly for sweets), and difficulty keeping up with all the steps to a task are among the early signs this AlzOnline presentation outlines.


If you’ve noticed several of these signs and symptoms over a period of time (weeks, months), call your physician (or your loved one’s) to share your concerns and schedule an appointment immediately. Also, consult our Alzheimer’s Resource Guide for an extensive array of care advice and information.



Do you have something to say?