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Warning Signs of Dementia

Dementia is a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. One common symptom of dementia is serious memory loss that interferes with your activities of everyday life. These activities can include driving a car, shopping, or handling money. Dementia may affect other parts of your thinking, such as your ability to solve problems or use words the right way. Depending on the type of dementia, these problems may happen slowly over months or years. Or they may happen more suddenly.

Not every memory problem is a sign of something serious. It is common to forget or lose things sometimes, or to make a mistake. Memory loss that begins suddenly or that gets in the way of your daily life may mean a more serious problem.

Warning signs

Warning signs should be shared with your healthcare team. They include:

  • Asking the same questions over and over again

  • Becoming lost in places you know well

  • Not being able to follow directions

  • Getting very confused about time, people, and places

  • Not taking care of yourself – eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe

Warning signs alone do not mean you have dementia. However, they may be a sign that you should be checked by your healthcare provider. A number of other medical problems may be mistaken for dementia, such as hearing and vision loss, reactions to medicines, and depression. These conditions should be ruled out before dementia is diagnosed.


An exam by your healthcare provider can help spot whether changes in your memory and thinking are due to dementia or another problem. It can also help find out what treatment is best. After the exam, you can discuss the right treatment and support for you. You can also get help with future planning.

The exam may include:

  • A history of your symptoms

  • Reviewing all your medicines

  • A physical exam, including tests of cardiovascular and neurological function, vision, and hearing

  • Objective cognitive testing, such as a brief memory test

  • Ordering lab tests, such as blood and urine tests

Sometimes your healthcare provider may want to order additional tests, such as:

  • Neuropsychological testing

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

  • CT scan or MRI of the brain

  • Other specialized lab tests

Your healthcare team wants to know about memory problems or other changes in your thinking and daily functioning that you or your loved ones have noticed. They can check out what is going on and determine whether it is due to dementia. Then they can help you find ways to handle these problems better.

Many people worry about becoming forgetful. They think forgetfulness is the first sign of dementia. Over the past few years, experts have learned a lot about memory. They now know why some kinds of memory problems are serious but others are not.

Are you or someone you care about having memory problems that concern you? If yes, talk with your healthcare team and share your concerns. They can help you.

Learn more

The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center (NIH) is a source of information for families, caregivers, and professionals.

You can learn about:

  • Diagnosis

  • Treatment

  • Patient care

  • Caregiver needs

  • Long-term care

  • Education and training

  • Latest research

Staff members answer phone, email, and written questions. They also make referrals to local and national resources. The ADEAR website has free, online publications in both English and Spanish. You can sign up for email alerts, view the Alzheimer’s disease library, and learn about clinical trials.

Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
800-438-4380 (toll-free)

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 6/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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