What Are the Most Common Dementia Signs and Symptoms?
It’s common for adult children, friends, and relatives to look out for the seniors in their family. Whether they’re grandparents, uncles, or family friends, you want to know the people you care for are safe and healthy.
It’s also common to notice changes as they age. If you’ve seen a few changes in your relative’s behavior, mood, or communication level, you might be worried about dementia – and it could be dementia. Eleven percent of adults over age 65 have some type of dementia, whether that’s Alzheimer’s disease or another form of the illness.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. The best thing you can do is to become knowledgeable about what symptoms to look for and what steps you can take.
Dementia is a broad category of brain diseases affecting cognitive, physical, and social abilities. It has common symptoms like memory loss, confusion, and personality changes, which can become severe in later stages. Although there are numerous forms of dementia, they do share many symptoms due to their influence on regions of the brain.
Some of the most common dementia signs and symptoms are:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking and writing
- Becoming repetitive
- Mood swings
- Poor decision-making
- Paranoia and depression
- Difficulty with regular and complex tasks
In this article we’ll go into more detail on dementia, including explaining its signs and symptoms and what you should do if you notice them in a loved one.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia isn’t a particular disease. It’s a general category for certain diseases affecting the brain. In these diseases, the brain experiences cell damage—typically from neuron loss, protein deposits, or blood clots and blockage. This type of damage isn’t part of normal aging, so while most seniors may become more forgetful as they age, not everyone will experience dementia or its level of symptoms.
Dementia does become more common with age. You might have a five percent chance of developing dementia if you’re younger than 60, but your chances rise to 18 percent in your 70s, 24 percent in your 80s, and 37 percent in your 90s. More than 60% of people will never get dementia.
Even if your friend or family member shows one or more of the common signs of dementia, they might not have dementia. In other words, they might receive a different diagnosis from the doctor. Your friend or family member might also be experiencing symptoms of a much more temporary issue, like medication side effects, or even a vitamin deficiency, so always consult a medical professional for a diagnosis.
What Are the Forms of Dementia?
There are many types of dementia, which arise from different root causes, each of which has different symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia—of all cases of dementia, roughly 60 to 80 percent have an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. While most cases develop in people older than 65, about five percent of cases started as early-onset Alzheimer’s. These cases can start when people are in their 40s and 50s.
Pay attention if you notice signs of forgetfulness or learning difficulties in a friend or relative. Alzheimer’s disease often starts in the learning part of the brain, where deposits form from an excess of proteins—beta-amyloid proteins in the case of plaque deposits and tau proteins in the case of tau tangle fibers. Symptom severity will increase gradually in most cases.
Early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Memory troubles
- Difficulties paying bills
- Personality changes
- Impaired judgment
- Vision issues
- Trouble with daily tasks
Later signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Significant memory loss
- Confusion and wandering
- Difficulties getting dressed
- Difficulties with recognition
- Trouble with speaking
- Trouble with walking
Vascular dementia is the second-most-common type of dementia. Of those people with dementia, about five to 10 percent will have the vascular form. This type of dementia focuses on the vascular system and issues with normal blood flow. When parts of the brain can’t get the blood flow and nutrients they need, they begin to break down. Just like with Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia results in permanent cell death that can affect actions and thoughts.
The two leading causes of vascular dementia are strokes and damage to brain blood vessels. Remember, this doesn’t mean your relative will develop vascular dementia if they experience a stroke or a series of mini-strokes, but they do have a greater risk. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease and its gradual progression, though, most cases of vascular dementia tend to have stages that are more noticeable. Changes can be significant if your family member or friend recently experienced a stroke. You can help by looking for certain signs and symptoms of dementia.
Signs and symptoms of vascular dementia:
- Unable to follow instructions
- Difficulties with concentration
- Difficulties with making plans
- Moods swings
- Problems with short-term memory
- Poor balance
- Trouble with urine control
- After a stroke, rapid onset of symptoms along with headaches or numbness/paralysis in face or body
Lewy Body Dementia
The third-most-common type of dementia, Lewy Body dementia occurs at similar rates to vascular dementia, accounting for about five to 10 percent of cases. Like Alzheimer’s, it involves protein malfunctions, but for a diagnosis of Lewy Body, the proteins that deposit in nerve cells must be primarily one type—alpha-synuclein.
Lewy Body dementia has a few shared symptoms with Alzheimer’s disease, but they often present more quickly than they would with Alzheimer’s. This dementia also shares some similarities with Parkinson’s disease—in fact, Parkinson’s disease dementia is closely related. To help your family member get the best and earliest care, be on the lookout for the following signs.
Signs and symptoms of Lewy Body dementia:
- Visual hallucinations
- Difficulties with walking
- Stiffness with movement
- Stooped posture
- Problems with swallowing
- Uneven gait
- Fainting and falling
- Memory loss
- Temperature sensitivity
- Daytime drowsiness and lethargy
- Visual problems
- Difficulties with numbers
- Problems with thinking and reasoning
Less common than the other types, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) targets the frontal and temporal—or side—lobes of the brain. As with a few other forms, protein deposits are the cause of the symptoms. In this case, they are tau proteins and a specific protein called TDP43. Frontotemporal dementia begins to influence language and behavior, due to the lobes affected.
You might have a friend or relative experiencing one of two main types of frontotemporal dementia—behavior variant (bvFTD) and primary progressive aphasia (PPA). Behavior variant typically develops in your mid 40s to mid 60s, but a diagnosis as early as your 20s can occur as well. Primary progressive aphasia typically develops during your 40s to 60s. Sometimes, the two types of frontotemporal dementia overlap in symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of bvFTD:
- Inappropriate social behavior
- Difficulties with planning
- Impulsive actions
- Compulsive eating, especially sweets or starchy foods
- Lack of judgment
- Loss of empathy
- Disinterest in personal hygiene
- Problems with multitasking
Signs and symptoms of PPA:
- Difficulties speaking and writing
- Troubles naming objects
- Problems finding the correct words
- Difficulties constructing proper sentences
- Slow and hesitant speech
- Difficulties understanding word meanings
If you notice dementia signs and symptoms that seem to indicate numerous forms of dementia, you might be correct. Sometimes people develop a combined form, such as Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s and Lewy body, or a combination of two other less common forms.
Mixed dementia is often difficult to diagnose and can change the usual progression of the diseases as they cause different reactions in the body. A physician with experience in dementia will be better able to help you understand a diagnosis of mixed dementia and what is means for the individual.
What Are the Risks for Dementia?
There is some indication that dementia may be hereditary, with individuals who have a close family member with dementia being more likely to get the disease themselves. Research in this area is still ongoing.
Age, however, is one of the most significant risks for developing dementia, as individuals get older their risk of dementia increases. But there are also forms of dementia, like frontotemporal dementia or early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, that occur in younger people. If you or anyone in your family is concerned about developing dementia, do your best to avoid the following risk factors.
- High levels of LDL cholesterol
- Smoking and alcohol consumption
- High levels of homocysteine amino acid in the blood
- Inactivity and sedentary lifestyle
- Vitamin/mineral deficiencies, especially vitamins D, B6, and B12.
Other risk factors, like genetics, aren’t things you can avoid. For example, down syndrome has also been indicated as a risk factor. Atherosclerosis, or plaque deposits in the arteries, may also increase your chances of developing dementia.
How Do You Diagnose Dementia?
What happens after you notice possible signs of dementia? You’ll want to encourage your friend or family member to make an appointment with their primary care doctor. From there, the doctor will likely refer them to a neurologist or other cognitive or geriatric specialist for additional evaluation.
The specialist will take them through a number of tests that focus on cognitive and physiological abilities, and often order blood tests to check hormones, vitamins, and body chemicals. Other important tests focus on brain imaging. They might undergo one or more tests like an MRI (using magnetic resonance), CT scan (using x-rays), or PET scan (using radiation).
A genetics counseling appointment is also important to determine whether gene abnormalities are the cause. This appointment can also be useful if you are related, since you might discover a hereditary connection. Finally, the specialist will refer your friend or family member for psychiatric testing to check for signs of depression or mental health issues, which can be mistaken for dementia (and vice versa).
Once the specialist receives all test results, they’ll make a clinical diagnosis on whether your family member has developed dementia, and what form it is in.
Dementia Care and Treatment
Just the thought of a dementia diagnosis can be stressful. If your friend or family member has received a confirmed diagnosis, you’ll want to find out the next steps for treatment and care.
It’s important to remember that dementia isn’t curable. Nevertheless, many medications and lifestyle changes can help individuals manage their symptoms and live full, happy lives. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine medications are most common for improving cognitive functioning. Other medications might work for movement or behavioral issues. Your relative might also get temporary relief from therapies like massage, music, tai chi, and other exercise. Even puzzles and other forms of mental stimulation may provide some relief.
Later stages of dementia will mean more care, and that’s where memory care can be helpful. Memory care alleviates the burden on friends and family by providing a positive, comfortable place for individuals with dementia to live and find new activities to enjoy.
If you’re looking for memory care in New Hampshire, consider Havenwood Heritage Heights. Havenwood Heritage Heights is an accredited continuing care retirement community dedicated to compassionate care. Our skilled staff is trained in the best ways to support individuals with various forms of dementia, giving them the quality care they deserve. Contact us to learn more about our support services and how we can help you and your loves one pursue their goal lifestyle.