Signs of Dementia

Signs of Dementia

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.

Diagnosing Dimentia

Diagnosing Dimentia



Importance Of A Diagnosis.  It is important to have a professional diagnosis of dementia for the following reasons:

-To eliminate and/or treat other medical problems–for example, a brain tumor, chemical     imbalance, thyroid issues, etc.  Even a urinary tract infection or dehydration in older    people can present similar cognitive symptoms.

-To enable the patient to make plans for the future including legal and financial matters     and care options.

-To benefit from available treatments.

-To allow the patient to develop a support team of family and health care professionals.

-To enable the person to live the best quality of life possible while they are able to do so


Obtaining A Diagnosis:   A diagnosis of dementia must be made by  medical professionals.  The evaluations should include:


-A physical exam.  This will include questions regarding diet, lifestyle, exercise, and use of alcohol or tobacco.  It should include a check of your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse.  The doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and perform other procedures as needed.  Blood and urine samples will be collected for testing.   A medical history will be done, including a review of your current and past illnesses and questions regarding the health of family members and whether they may have had dementia.


-Mental status tests. During a mental status exam, a health professional asks a patient a series of questions designed to test a range of everyday mental skills.  The outcome is compared to a scale which rates scores from normal functioning, to mild, moderate, or severe dementia.


-A neurological exam.  The doctor will evaluate the patient for problems that might include brain disorders other than Alzheimer’s, including stroke, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, or fluid accumulation on the brain, or other conditions that affect memory.  The doctor will check your eye movement, speech, coordination, muscle tone and strength, and physical sensations.


-Brain imaging.  A standard assessment for dementia often includes brain imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or computed tomography (CT).  These tests can also rule out other problems, such a brain tumor, etc.

Legal and Financial Planning

Legal and Financial Planning



It is vital after a diagnosis of dementia to organize important legal and financial documents to provide easy access by both the dementia patient and/or the caregiver.  Assistance from an attorney will be needed to prepare some of these documents.  Use this checklist to collect and organize the following:

            -Wills and trusts.

            -Deeds or mortgages to properties.

            -Banking and investment information: 

Account numbers, banks and locations, stock certificates, bonds, safety deposit   box location and key.

            -Employment, salary, or retirement salary information.

            -Marriage license.

            -Divorce decree.

            -List of credit cards and their numbers.

            -Birth certificate.

            -Social security card.

            -Pink slip or payment information on vehicles.

            -Insurance policies:  Life insurance, home insurance, car insurance.

            -Any other loan documents or legal agreements to which the person is a party.

            -The last three years of  federal and state tax returns.

            -Copies of normal bills that are regularly paid:  Utilities, phone, security, etc.

            -POLST medical form (ask the doctor for this form, as a medical professional must assist in its completion). 

            -Health care power of attorney.

            -Legal and financial power of attorney.

            -Any other pertinent legal documents.

            -Financial sources of medical care:

    • Benefits available through health care providers.
    • Employment benefits–disability plans, Family Medical Leave Act, employee emergency assistance programs.
    • Public benefits:  (US)  Medicaid, Medicare, in home support services, Supplemental Security Income.
    • Veterans benefits.
    • Long term care insurance policies (must be purchased previous to diagnosis).

            -For those who use online resources:  Include information on passwords for important sites, i.e., banking,  bill paying, etc.

            -Personal attorney contact information.

            -Medical history of pets and instructions as to what should happen to them if you are no longer able to care for them.

            -Information on any pre-paid funeral, services, cemetery plots, who to contact in the event of death.