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Symptoms of Dementia

Symptoms of Dementia

The most common symptom of dementia is the loss of short-term memory. In the early to middle stages of the disease, however, short-term memory loss is often inconsistent; sometimes the person is able to remember incidents, at other times, not at all. It is helpful to think of the brain during the early stages of dementia as being like a broken circuit board – sometimes the circuits connect, and sometimes they don’t. The important thing to remember is that there is brain damage. It is not true that the person “could remember if he really tried.” During the middle to late stages of the disease, the short-term memory loss becomes consistent.

Dementia is caused by many conditions. Some conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms can be reversed and others cannot. Reversible conditions with symptoms of dementia can be caused by a high fever, dehydration, vitamin deficiency, poor nutrition, bad reactions to medicines, problems with the thyroid gland, or a minor head injury. These medical conditions should be treated as soon as possible.

Sometimes older people may be experiencing emotional problems that can be mistaken for dementia. Feeling sad, lonely, worried, or bored may be more common for older people facing retirement or coping with the death of a spouse, relative, or friend. Adapting to these changes can leave some people feeling confused or forgetful. Emotional problems can be eased by supportive friends and family or by professional help from a doctor or counselor.

Some people do become more forgetful as they get older and misplace car keys or forget a familiar name. That is a normal part of aging. Alzheimer’s disease is not. The changes associated with normal aging can sometimes present as difficulties with short-term memory and/or mood changes.

People often worry when these changes occur that they might be exhibiting the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. You should make an appointment with your doctor or health professional just to make sure, but more than likely they are normal changes. The table below compares common signs of normal aging versus early Alzheimer’s disease.

Normal Aging Early Signs of Alzheimer’s
Forgets the names of people you rarely see Forgets the names of people close to you
Briefly forgets part of an experience Forgets a recent experience
Occasionally unable to find something Unable to find important things
Mood changes because of an appropriate cause Unpredictable mood changes
Changes in interests Decreased interest in outside activities
Usually able to follow spoken and written directions Gradually unable to follow spoken or written directions

(Alzheimer’s Association, 2008)