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What Are the Warning Signs of Dementia?

Dementia in the elderly, which used to be known as senile dementia, accounts for the great majority of dementia cases. Most dementia in older people is caused by Alzheimer’s disease, which is responsible for somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of all cases of dementia.

The effectiveness of dementia treatment to reduce the severity of symptoms and slow (or, in some cases, stop and even reverse) their progression depends heavily on early diagnosis — which means that effective treatment for someone you care about could depend heavily on your ability to recognize early dementia warning signs.

Early-Stage Dementia Signs

Often, the clearest early warning sign of dementia, possibly because it’s the sign the majority of people most closely associate with dementia, is short-term memory problems. Some of the ways memory loss can manifest are:

Did You Know?

Unchecked alcohol consumption appears to increase the risk of dementia. Similar to the evidence of alcohol’s effects on many other health conditions, research on the connection between drinking and dementia indicates that moderate drinking — one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men — may lower your risk of developing dementia, but excessive drinking raises it.

  • Forgetting names; forgetting to complete routine tasks, or forgetting that a task has already been completed (in later, more serious stages of dementia, these aspects of memory loss progress, respectively, to forgetting people, and forgetting how to do familiar tasks)
  • Mental fogginess, confusion (usually related to memory problems), possibly seeming to temporarily forget where they are or, when away from home, becoming disoriented and unsure how to get back
  • Asking the same question repeatedly within a limited period of time and forgetting the answer, or that the question has already been answered, or even that they have asked the question before

Other common early-dementia symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Misplacing items or putting items away in illogical places, and then being unable to find them again
  • Difficulty understanding, applying or retaining new information for the purposes of making decisions, etc.
  • Difficulty organizing and planning
  • Difficulty with verbal self-expression: forgetting words, replacing forgotten words with inappropriate substitutions, or repeating words, phrases, and parts of a story within the same conversation

Symptoms of Dementia in Later Stages

Did You Know?

Smoking increases your risk of dementia. While the most solid evidence links current smoking with the development of dementia symptoms, one large study found that those who had smoked in the past, even if they quit smoking 20 years ago, still had double the risk of developing dementia as those who had always been nonsmokers.

Even with drug and other treatments, the symptoms of progressive dementias will inevitably worsen. People in the later stages of dementia usually receive 24-hour residential care in a nursing home because they no longer have the capacity to complete such everyday tasks as preparing meals, getting dressed or bathing independently.

Other signs of late-stage dementias might include drastic personality changes, increased aggression and anger, tendency to verbally or physically lash out and to try and harm others or themselves, and inability to recognize familiar places or people, including family members.

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