As we age, it’s often difficult to make the distinction between normal cognitive decline and dementia. We all misplace objects and forget appointments from time to time, but when do senior moments become signs of something more complex happening in the brain?

Dementia can develop very slowly, making it challenging to recognize subtle changes in mood and behavior. And often, dementia symptoms can be similar to the symptoms of other conditions such as stroke, depression, substance abuse, infections, nutrient deficiencies, and hormonal disorders.

The best place to find out more is with a doctor who can perform a physical exam and cognitive assessment, but here are some early signs of dementia to help guide families as they determine how to help their loved one receive the best care as they age.

• Memory problems, particularly remembering recent events

• Increased confusion and difficulty with daily tasks

• Disorientation, difficulty finding a familiar place, or confusion about where they are

• Difficulty remembering words or using incorrect substitutions for words

• Confusion doing simple math or taking care of finances

• Poor judgment and decision making

• Poor spatial skills or difficulty judging distances or following driving directions

• Misplacing items and—critically—not understanding what the items are for

• Personality changes including mood swings, anxiety, sadness, and withdrawn behavior

• A loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed


Many older adults with dementia aren’t aware of the changes that others clearly see and are often resistant to visiting a doctor. But if you’re noticing several of these early signs, it’s important to make sure the patient gets a complete professional assessment to rule out other causes and, if needed, to make a plan for appropriate management and treatment.