Early Signs and Symptoms of Dementia: What to Look For

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This article outlines some of the early signs and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Keep in mind that some symptoms can also be attributed to the normal effects of aging or due to factors such as stress or depression. If your loved one experiences any of these symptoms, detecting Alzheimer’s or dementia early on is important and it’s best to consult a physician for a proper diagnosis. Because Alzheimer’s and other dementias affect the brain and its functioning, both behavioral and cognitive changes are apparent early in the course of the disease. Some of the most common behavioral and cognitive changes are listed below.

Cognitive Changes

Difficulty or issues in any of the following cognitive areas should be brought to a physician’s attention immediately. The doctor can then perform the necessary tests required for detecting Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia.


Memory loss is one of the most common signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. While occasionally forgetting names or appointments is normal, a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia will often be unable to recall recently learned information. That person’s forgetfulness also will occur with increasing frequency.

Familiar Tasks

Everyday tasks such as acts of basic hygiene (e.g., showering or brushing one’s teeth), meal preparation or placing a telephone call can seem unfamiliar to someone in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Sometimes all or most of the steps required to perform the action are recalled, but the order is jumbled.


Although occasionally forgetting the correct word for an object is normal, a person in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia will forget simple words or use unusual terms. Both speech and writing can be affected and might be slightly puzzling or difficult to understand. Be aware that the onset of jumbled speech could also be a symptom of a stroke.


Occasional bouts of forgetfulness are normal, but early symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s make people unaware of their surroundings even in familiar places, such as his or her neighborhood or inside the home.

Abstract Thinking

Complex mental tasks or ones that require several steps may become difficult (if not impossible) to perform. The difficulty usually becomes apparent in tasks that require a person to input information from various sources and then combine, assess or analyze that information. Depending on the individual and the stage of the disease, this could include an activity such as balancing a checkbook or following a group discussion.


An inability to make a sound decision based on a given set of factors, when a person normally shows sound judgment, is one of the other possible signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. A common example is dressing inappropriately for the weather.

Putting Things in the Wrong Place

Another of the more common early warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s is placing objects in inappropriate or nonsensical places, such as putting keys in the refrigerator.

Behavioral Changes

Major shifts in personality, behavior and mood or energy levels can also be indicative of early-stage symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s.


A noticeable shift in personality can be one of the early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Sometimes personality changes are hard to pinpoint, but take note if the person isn’t acting in accordance with his or her normal patterns of behavior. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, an individual often understands that he or she has forgotten an important piece of information, and the inability to recall it causes frustration.

Behavior or Mood

Alzheimer’s and other dementias can cause severe and rapidly changing moods, resulting in an individual experiencing various emotions ranging from rage to sadness and complete calm within the course of a few minutes.


Passivity, sleeping for prolonged periods of time, and sitting for hours watching TV or otherwise not speaking with anyone are other early warning signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. A lack of energy or passion for life can manifest in a lack of desire to participate in normal activities, especially ones that the person previously enjoyed. A physician should be consulted to rule out the possibility that these symptoms are not signs of depression.

Detecting Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Detecting Alzheimer’s and dementia early is important for treatment and the progression of the disease course. If your loved one is experiencing any of the signs of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s outlined above, contact a physician right away. There are basic tests that doctors use when detecting Alzheimer’s, dementia, or mild cognitive impairment. These include Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) and/or Saint Louis University Mental Status Exam (SLUMS).


The Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) was developed in 1975 and is used for detecting Alzheimer’s and dementia or testing for cognitive decline. If 24 or more of the 30 tasks are successfully completed, then physicians will usually designate the individual as not being cognitively impaired.


An update to the MMSE exam was developed by a group of Saint Louis University geriatricians. It has the unfortunate title of SLUMS, which stands for Saint Louis University Mental Status. The newer exam, another method for detecting Alzheimer’s or dementia, was billed as a supplement to the MMSE, and it is slightly more nuanced. For example, the test adjusts scores according to the patient’s education level. SLUMS is now used by many Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals.

almost 3 years, said...

Last week I put the tea caddy , full of tea bags in with the plates and cups.! I remember having a problem finding a space for it..and couldn't understand this.. Then two days later I reported my bank card missing,only to find it in my pocket! And today my daughter discovered the salt in the fridge, I could not find it anywhere..no wonder...

almost 4 years, said...

I think I have inherited Possible Early Dementia my husband and and daughter notice things I refuse to see and agree with..I ask questions several times a lot and they say I told you that 3 times .I say well I don't remember ..I can remember things from when I was a kid and in the past clearly ..but short term memory is getting really bad ..scares me and i'm wondering what to do first to het help .my family is starting to get concern but was irritated at first and didn't understand as I was embarrassed to tell them about my family on my dads side the family and how in their 40s the memory started getting bad ..and us sly it was for old ppl not ppl in 4ies..but anyway I need to know which step to take next before this get out of hand.

almost 4 years, said...

I know somebody who claims she has burnout, yet has many dementia symptoms, and is showing violence and hatefulness. It would help many if authoritative articles could explore this method of avoiding acceptance of early stage dementia.

about 5 years, said...

Thank you .

over 5 years, said...

The article helped me analyze/understand symptoms of the disease and what the likelihood is that I have the disease and if so what action can be (or should be) taken. Thank you. R

about 6 years, said...

This helped in asking my loved one if she has some of these symptoms. I have been trying to get her to understand that she needs help for a year. Now she feels that she does need help from a specialist and I thank you for the information.

over 6 years, said...

The symptoms are all too familiar and infect the whole family. I've seen two generations of my family stricken with dementia Added to this my own brain surgery allowed me a personal taste during recovery those delusions and other cognitive dysfunctions that dementia sufferers display. You might say I got to peep onto the other side but I was lucky enough to return with a memory. Have spent hours of deliberation on the subject whether it could be their Rapture - special persons spirited away leaving an empty shell of a body, operating on autopilot. Mum was special.

over 6 years, said...

thank you for an informative and welcome article

almost 7 years, said...

Since no two cases of Dementia are exactly alike I study professional and lay person medical treatment quotes, prescribed medications and behaviors that are similar to my husband's case. I am thankfully past reacting as his spouse to his behavior because time has healed the spousal pain surpassed now by the heartache of my loved one's unsteady gait and fading memory. Looking back I see his symptoms were emerging maybe as long ago as June 2007 after his aortic valve replacement surgery. As his only caregiver 24/7 adjusting to meeting his medical and personal needs was difficult. I thought I saw day by day progress. Maybe I did, maybe I did not. Not even in 2008, 2009, 2010 and early 2011 did I consider the obvious. I chose to overlook or debate his angry outbursts and thrifty habits. After all, he was the man he'd always been in his quest to accomplish goals set long ago which he met at age 56. After extensive testing he was diagnosed with Dementia Phase One, 'probably Alzheimer's'. He's currently under the care of a neurologist-oncologist who prescribed Aricept. He sleeps a lot; he has unintended weight loss; refuses to eat his evening meal; complains of being cold and is always covered with a blanket; rejects all food he craved in the past; needs time of day, day of the week and month prompting; at times he wonders where I am even tho I am in the next room; his thinking is often clear-thinking in the morning part of a day. I understand about Sundowners. It is then I ask advice on investments, house, vehicles and grounds care. He forgets most of his suggestions/opinions and criticizes what I do.

over 7 years, said...

Thanks for the help.

over 7 years, said...

I still cannot understand why the doctor went along with the rude person who takes blood...decided that I am losing my mind since i was at the office on time, etc. and I had a conversation with the doctor previous to the blood episode ...where he did practically all the talking which had nothing to do with my memory and lack of it....

over 7 years, said...

I went to the doctor's office where the doctor talked to me and nothing drastic was discussed. I then went to the girl who takes my blood for its analysis.. the doctor talked to me again... until all at once, I was accused to having phoned four times in one day, etc..I then left and never returned to that office... ...I know wonder about medical care????

almost 8 years, said...

very helpful, thank you

almost 8 years, said...

Very helpful, thank you.