Dementia | Symptoms

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What are the symptoms of dementia?

The symptoms of dementia include:

  • Recent memory loss. All of us forget things for a while and then remember them later. People who have dementia often forget things, but they never remember them. They might ask you the same question over and over, each time forgetting that you've already given them the answer. They won't even remember that they already asked the question.
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People who have dementia might cook a meal but forget to serve it. They might even forget that they cooked it.
  • Problems with language. People who have dementia may forget simple words or use the wrong words. This makes it hard to understand what they want.
  • Time and place disorientation. People who have dementia may get lost on their own street. They may forget how they got to a certain place and how to get back home.
  • Poor judgment. Even a person who doesn't have dementia might get distracted. But people who have dementia can forget simple things, like forgetting to put on a coat before going out in cold weather.
  • Problems with abstract thinking. Anybody might have trouble balancing a checkbook, but people who have dementia may forget what the numbers are and what has to be done with them.
  • Misplacing things. People who have dementia may put things in the wrong places. They might put an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. Then they can't find these things later.
  • Changes in mood. Everyone is moody at times, but people who have dementia may have fast mood swings, going from calm to tears to anger in a few minutes.
  • Personality changes. People who have dementia may have drastic changes in personality. They might become irritable, suspicious or fearful.
  • Loss of initiative. People who have dementia may become passive. They might not want to go places or see other people

What about when I know a word but can't recall it?

This is usually just a glitch in your memory. You'll almost always remember the word with time. This may become more common as you age. It can be very frustrating, but it's not usually serious.

How can I tell if my memory problems are serious?

A memory problem is serious when it affects your daily living. If you sometimes forget names, you're probably okay. But you may have a more serious problem if you have trouble remembering how to do things you've done many times before, get to a place you've been to often, or do things that require steps (such as following a recipe).

Another difference between normal memory problems and dementia is that normal memory loss doesn't get much worse over time. Dementia gets much worse over several months to several years.

It may be hard to figure out on your own if you have a serious problem. Talk to your family doctor about any concerns you have. If your memory problems are caused by a certain medicine you're taking, your doctor can prescribe another medicine that doesn't have this side effect. If another condition is causing your memory loss (such as depression), your doctor can help you treat the condition.

Memory problems that aren't part of normal aging

  • Forgetting things much more often than you used to
  • Forgetting how to do things you've done many times before
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation
  • Trouble making choices or handling money
  • Not being able to keep track of what happens each day

Source

Early Diagnosis of Dementia by KS Santacruz, M.D. and D Swagerty, M.D., M.P.H. (American Family Physician February 15, 2001, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010215/703.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 01/11
Created: 09/00

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