Dementia is not simply forgetting where you left your keys, being unable to recall someone’s name, or being unable to remember what you went into a room to retrieve. Incidents like this occur at all ages, although perhaps more frequently as you age.
Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with normal activities of daily living which lasts more than six months and has not been present since birth. It is a group of symptoms caused by the gradual death of brain cells. The loss of cognitive abilities that occurs with dementia leads to impairments in memory, reasoning, planning, and behavior.
While the overwhelming number of people with dementia are elderly, dementia is not an inevitable part of aging. Dementia is not a specific disease, but it is a term that describes a group of symptoms that are caused by specific brain diseases–Alzheimer’s being the most common and vascular dementia–which occurs after a stroke–being the second most common. See the “Glossary” on this website for definitions of various types of dementia.
Here are some common signs of dementia compiled from several reliable medical sites.
Memory loss that interferes with normal activities of daily living. Examples: Forgetting appointments, forgetting to pay bills, asking for the same information repeatedly, increasing reliance on memory aids.
Difficulty in planning or solving problems. Examples: Difficulty following a familiar recipe or written or oral instructions.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks. Examples: Difficulty in driving to a familiar location, remembering the rules to a favorite game, knowing how to put on a DVD, use a remote control, replace batteries in devices, etc.
Confusion of time and space. Examples: People with dementia can lose track of dates, seasons, and time.
Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Examples: Problems judging distance, determining color and contrasts, or being able to look at a diagram and assemble something.
New problems with speaking or writing. Examples: Trouble following a conversations, especially when many people are involved. Problems in finding specific words and/or calling things by the wrong name. “New problems” means exclusion of previously existing conditions like dyslexia or dyscalculia, both of which are learning disorders.
Misplacing things and losing the ability to find them. Examples: A person with dementia may put things in unusual places and/or forget where they have put something. While everyone may do this occasionally, it is more frequent in dementia and a distinguishing difference is that someone with dementia does not have the ability to retrace their steps and recover the lost items. This may result in them blaming someone else for misplacing an item or stealing.
Poor judgment. Examples: People with dementia may use poor judgment in finances, perhaps giving large amounts to telemarketers, charities, people they hardly know, etc. They may inappropriately provide personal information such as social security or credit card numbers. They may also ignore personal cleanliness and grooming.
Withdrawing from work, social activities, hobbies, etc. Examples: May avoid social situations because they do not want others to know about their condition and/or they fear they will do or say the wrong things. They may also lose interest in hobbies or activities that they previously enjoyed because they may find them too difficult.
Personality changes. Examples: They may become suspicious, confused, fearful, anxious, depressed, or even aggressive.