Dementia is a disease that typically affects those over the age of 65, but it can appear earlier. Some mistakenly believe cognitive decline is a normal part of aging when, in fact, only a small percentage of the older population will experience it. Still, it can be all too easy to start looking for signs.
There are some early indicators that dementia may be in your loved one’s future, but they may not be what you think. We all know that excessive forgetfulness and confusion are warning signs, but some others may surprise you.
Subtle Changes in Personality
One of the earliest signs of dementia is a dramatic change in personality. Personality traits like introversion and neuroticism can come into play decades before other symptoms begin. It’s important to note that these two traits aren’t signs someone will develop dementia. A personality change in that direction could be a warning sign, though.
Difficulty Following a Plan
It isn’t unusual to get lost in an unfamiliar area. However, someone with dementia may have difficulty following directions in general. Whether it’s a recipe, instructions on putting something together, or the GPS in the car, being unable to stick with a list of directions can be an early sign. As the disease progresses, this difficulty only becomes more pronounced.
Change in Sleep Patterns
Studies have found that those who sleep more than nine hours each night have an increased risk of dementia. However, unusual sleep patterns can be an early indicator of cognitive decline. If your loved one is waking up during the night or feels the need to nap throughout the day, look for other signs. As with other early symptoms, though, there can be many other reasons for disrupted sleep patterns, so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
As dementia develops, you may notice your loved one has a tough time reading. Part of this is simply the need to comprehend and retain what they’ve already read in order to apply it to the next section of text. There may be small signs of this early on that can serve as warning signs. Those with dementia may also notice that the visuoperceptual difficulties connected to dementia make it tough to remain focused on the correct line of text.
Taking Sarcasm Literally
One study found that an early sign of dementia was the inability to detect an obvious lie. Those with dementia may also misinterpret sarcasm as a straightforward statement. You may notice this in small doses early on, as the area of the brain that can process more complex human behaviors begins the gradual deterioration process. Later, the inability to detect lies and sarcasm becomes much more pronounced.
It's important to note that taken independently, no one symptom is a sure sign that dementia is approaching. But it can’t hurt to meet with a physician to discuss any concerns you have. Some basic cognitive tests can give you the answers you need, and help you learn strategies to cope with any changes you’re currently seeing.