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What Are the Very Early Signs of Dementia?

The very early signs of dementia include forgetfulness, difficulty completing familiar tasks, misplacing items, confusion and poor judgment.

Though dementia is a widespread, well-known condition, it can be challenging to distinguish from typical signs of aging. That’s because the very early signs of dementia are similar to the normal changes that come with getting older. Many of those signs include neurological issues related to memory, mental decline and cognitive issues focused on language, communication, focus and reasoning. Emotional health can also play a role.

Unfortunately, coming across these signs is becoming more common. Dementia diagnoses have been steadily rising over the past few decades. Today, nearly 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, including almost six million Americans.

What Are the Very Early Signs of Dementia?

Recognizing some of the earliest signs of dementia can help you and your family decide when to seek the guidance of a healthcare professional. We can group early signs of dementia into three main categories:

  • Memory problems
  • Cognitive and neurological issues
  • Emotional changes

Memory Issues

Forgetfulness that Impacts Daily Life

In the early stages of dementia, a person will frequently forget things they once knew, including things they have learned recently.

You may find that your friend or family member seems to rely more on memory aids like calendar reminders or on other people to help them remember dates. Forgetting appointments, events and meetings with friends is common.

This kind of forgetfulness is different from common age-related memory issues where a person might forget an appointment time when discussing it in a conversation, but remember it later.

Difficulty Handling Once Familiar Tasks

People experiencing early-stage dementia often have trouble completing routine tasks they have been doing for years. They might forget a familiar driving route, the rules of a favorite game or even the basic steps for handling daily chores like unloading the dishwasher.

While everyone needs an occasional reminder when it comes to things like playing a complicated board game, people who may have dementia tend to forget or have trouble doing even simple, familiar tasks frequently.

Misplacing Items

Putting items in the wrong place and forgetting where to find them is a commonly seen behavior in the early stages of dementia. When this happens routinely, the person may accuse others of theft. Severity matters, too.

Occasionally misplacing items is typical behavior for many people who do not have dementia as they age. However, this symptom should be a red flag when it happens frequently. Finding your relative’s toothbrush in the fridge is more serious than if they forget to brush their teeth before bed.

Cognitive and Neurological Issues

Mental Decline

A person experiencing early-stage dementia may be unable to handle tasks that require problem-solving. Common tasks include:

  • Managing a budget
  • Paying bills correctly and on time
  • Following a familiar recipe
  • Creating a complicated schedule
  • Completing a crossword puzzle
  • Learning a new game

These tasks may take longer than they used to and require more energy, leaving the person feeling mentally and physically exhausted.

Remember, these signs of early dementia are often quite similar to typical signs of aging among people who do not have dementia. The difference is in how frequently they occur, and the seriousness of the decline. If you notice problems every now and again that seem to resolve themselves quickly, there’s probably nothing to worry about. If the issues come up more frequently over time, however, you may want to consider getting a physician’s opinion.

Poor Judgment

People exhibiting the very early signs of dementia are prone to poor judgment. A worrying behavior could be making large purchases without consulting their spouse when they wouldn’t have in the past. Some people may also develop poor habits around self-hygiene and housekeeping.

Poor judgment can lead to dire outcomes, so this is a symptom that needs prompt attention. Some people with dementia may lose their ability to judge whether an activity is safe, including activities that could cause physical injury.


Early dementia can cause someone to lose track of space and time frequently. They may forget the day, week or month, or how they arrived at their current location. This early dementia sign can be highly upsetting for your family member or friend. In moments of clarity, they may reflect on their confusion and become sad or respond with anger if you ask them about it.

Occasional moments of confusion can be a typical sign of aging. However, it is atypical to experience these moments regularly.

Confused Speech

An inability to keep up with conversations can be an early sign of dementia. The person may have trouble coming up with the right word or lose track of the flow of communication, especially when there are several people involved. Repetitive speech can also be a sign that someone may be experiencing early dementia symptoms.

We all forget a word now and then or repeat ourselves, but people who are experiencing early dementia may develop worsening confusion and frustration around speech and language.

Emotional Changes

Sudden Changes in Mood and Personality

Early-stage dementia can cause people to become fearful, paranoid, anxious, depressed or easily upset. You may notice your family member or friend undergo a sudden emotional or personality change.

Depression and anxiety, in particular, are common diagnoses among adults, including older adults. Emotional changes related to early-stage dementia often seem like they happen out of nowhere.

Social Withdrawal

People experiencing symptoms related to dementia may begin to withdraw socially as they try to understand what is happening to them. It is common for people in this situation to self-isolate because they feel ashamed, fearful or confused.

When and Where to Seek a Dementia Diagnosis

A common rule of thumb is that someone experiencing at least two dementia-related symptoms should seek an evaluation conducted by a dementia specialist.

The Alzheimer’s Association encourages people to seek a dementia evaluation as soon as they begin to suspect the condition is affecting them or a family member. Early diagnoses can give families more options for treatment and more time to adjust. Receiving an early diagnosis also allows the affected person to have more of a say in their future care.

Many families turn to their regular doctor for recommendations about local dementia care and diagnosis. You can also seek advice from friends and family members who have gone through the process. This online directory is a helpful resource.

Dementia Care in Plano, TX

Most adults in the very early stages of dementia don’t need full-time support. Instead, they can continue living on their own and simply start researching dementia care options, also commonly known as memory care. An early diagnosis gives the individual and their family plenty of time to find the right option for them, which is often a comfortable memory care community.

At Spring Creek, we offer just that type of environment. Our Plano memory care community provides is in a quiet, peaceful part of Texas and offers not only a relaxing home-like environment, but luxury amenities and services as well. It’s our goal to ensure every resident can thrive, maximizing their abilities and living the lifestyle they want, regardless of where they are in their dementia journey.

Contact Spring Creek to learn more about how our Texas memory care program, Valeo, is empowering our residents to thrive in a warm, family-oriented environment. You can also download our guide, “Finding the Right Memory Care Facility” for more information.

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