Dementia: Recognizing the signs and symptoms

April 07, 2023


Do one or more of your loved ones suffer from memory loss and other symptoms caused by dementia? Dementia is a common condition that affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans over the age of 65. Although dementia has some common causes, its symptoms are not always obvious or easy to diagnose. By learning the early warning signs of dementia, you can be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms. Early intervention is key to improving prognosis for those living with dementia, so talk to your doctor or other trusted healthcare professional if you find yourself or someone you love experiencing these symptoms.
Dementia can be hard to diagnose:

Dementia is a complex illness that can be difficult to diagnose. It is caused by many different types of brain conditions, which may include:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Stroke 
  • Parkinson's disease

The causes vary depending on the type of dementia that develops in an individual person.

People with dementia can exhibit a wide range of symptoms, some of which may be hard for family members to identify. Knowing what to look for can help with early intervention, which can improve prognosis for people with dementia.

Three groups of symptoms:

The symptoms of dementia can be grouped into three categories: physicalbehavioral, and emotional.

Emotional Symptoms:

Emotional symptoms are often the first to appear in people with dementia. These include anxietydepression and irritability, which can be caused by changes in the brain's structure and function. 

Emotional symptoms can also be treated with medication that blocks or slows down the release of certain chemicals in the brain that affect mood. This can help people with dementia feel better emotionally and reduce their stress levels.

Physical Symptoms:

These symptoms primarily affect the body and physical functions of a person living with dementia. 

  • Memory loss: Those with dementia may not be able to remember things they did yesterday, or even last week. They might find themselves asking the same questions or looking for the same things over and over again, like glasses or keys. They may repeat themselves often when talking because they forgot what they were saying before starting over again.
    Memory loss may also include:
  • problems with short term memory
  • difficulty recalling names, faces and places
  • difficulty following a conversation
  • difficulty remembering events from the past
  • trouble planning or organizing
  • trouble remembering how to do things like cook or drive.
  • Problems with language and communication: This can include trouble finding the right words during conversations; making inappropriate comments due to misunderstanding what another person has said; having difficulty understanding written material such as newspapers/books/magazines etc.
    • Difficulty with word-finding: People with dementia often have trouble finding the right words. This can lead to frustration and a loss of self-confidence, which may cause them to withdraw from conversation or social interaction.
    • Difficulty understanding others: Communication difficulties are not limited to those who have dementia, however, those with severe cases of dementia may not be able to understand what others are saying at all. They may also repeat phrases over and over again without realizing that the conversation has moved on.
    • Difficulty expressing oneself: It's important for caregivers and friends of individuals suffering from dementia or another form of cognitive impairment to understand that people may need help communicating. This is important so they don't feel left out when everyone else seems like they're having fun conversing together. Remember to include people with dementia in your conversations, even just asking them how their day went can give them an opportunity to practice using their communication and memory skills. 
  • Constipation and urinary difficulties- In addition to having difficulty with memory, speech and thinking skills, some people with dementia may experience constipation or urinary difficulties. A major symptom of both conditions is dehydration.
  • Constipation: The colon becomes constricted by the increased pressure in the brain, which makes it more difficult for stool to exit from your body. This can lead to dehydration because you're not moving as much salivary secretions around in order to keep them lubricated and moistened for elimination (a process known as "salivary flow").
  • Urinary difficulties: Dementia causes a decrease in urine production by increasing hormone levels such as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). People with dementia may experience incontinence and/or an overactive bladder as a result of their condition. 
  • Delusions and Hallucinations: Delusions are false beliefs that a person holds to be true. They're usually accompanied by hallucinations, which are seeing or hearing things that aren't there.
  • Examples of delusions include someone believing they’ve won the lottery when they haven't, believing someone else is controlling their thoughts and actions (known as paranoid delusions), or believing that people can hear their thoughts (known as auditory hallucinations).
  • Physical changes such as drooping eyelids or tremors are also common in people with dementia.

Behavioral Symptoms

Behavioral symptoms can be difficult to recognize, as they may not be as obvious as memory loss and other physical or emotional symptoms. The most common behavioral changes include:

  • Changes in personality - A person with dementia may display a sudden change in their personality, such as:
    • becoming more aggressive or withdrawn. 
    • mood swings
    • irritability or anger
    • withdrawal from social interaction and relationships with friends, family or caregivers.
  • Confusion: Your loved one might seem confused about where they are or how they got there, who people are in their lives, what day it is and why they're at a certain place (like a doctor's office). They might also struggle with tasks that were once easy for them like reading mail or writing checks but now require more effort because of their confusion about what's happening around them.
  • Getting lost in new places: This can happen anywhere from public transportation stations such as train stations through unfamiliar neighborhoods where landmarks aren't easily recognizable anymore due to cognitive decline taking place over time.
  • Inability to communicate effectively - People who are suffering from this condition often struggle with communicating what they want or need; therefore caregivers should seek out creative ways of helping them express themselves through writing down messages on sticky notes so they don't forget what they said.
  • Changes in eating habits such as eating less often or eating more are also common behavioral symptoms of dementia.
If your loved one has been experiencing these symptoms for longer than three months, it's important to get help from a doctor who specializes in dementia treatment.


The symptoms of dementia can be difficult for family members to identify. Some people with dementia show only one symptom while others may experience many different ones at once. Some symptoms will occur only during certain times while others seem to come and go over time. They also vary greatly depending on the stage of the disease being treated.

Dementia is a serious and at times debilitating disorder that can affect anyone of any age, but primarily impacts older adults. It is important that you recognize the signs and symptoms of dementia, so that you can seek help from a doctor as soon as possible. Early detection and intervention is key to minimizing the impact of dementia on the lives of those who live with it. 

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