12 Early Signs of Dementia and How to Spot Them

stages of care

There is evidence that by the time most people develop any early signs of dementia the underlying disease has already been causing damage to the brain.  Medication to slow down or prevent the diseases that cause dementia can have some impact in a dementia suffers quality of life, so an early diagnosis is potentially beneficial.

We’ve put together some early warning signs of Dementia & Alzheimer’s for you to look out for and some specific symptoms you can monitor.  We also discuss more normal, age-related issues.

Early Signs of Dementia Checklist

Is it a Dementia Sign or is it just a something we do as we get older?

Signs of Dementia/Alzheimer’sTypical age-related changes
Poor judgement and decision-makingMaking a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budgetMissing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the seasonForgetting what day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversationSometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find themLosing things from time to time

1. Recent memory loss

One of the most common early signs of dementia, especially in the early stages. This is about forgetting recently learned information, or forgetting things like appointments, names and telephone numbers – and not remembering them later; other signs are asking for the same information over and over again.

This is different to more typical age-related memory loss which is about sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

Early Signs of Dementia


2. Forgetting how to do everyday tasks

Finding it hard to complete daily tasks might include setting a table, driving to a familiar location or remembering the rules of a favourite game.

This is different to more typical age-related forgetfulness such as help to record a tv programme or use the settings on a microwave.

Early Signs of Dementia

3. Problems with language

This may include struggling to follow or join a conversation; it can also include stopping in mid sentence with no idea how to continue.   Forgetting vocabulary, and the meaning of simple words or using them in the wrong context;

This is different to sometimes having trouble finding the right word.


4. Becoming confused in familiar surroundings

Forgetting where they are and how they got there, along with losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time.   Having trouble understanding something if its not happening immediately.

This is different to getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

Early Signs of Dementia

5. Difficulty in calculating numbers and handling money or balancing the cheque book

Another one of the early signs of dementia may be changes in an ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers.   This could include trouble following a recipe or keeping track of monthly bills.   There might also be difficulty in concentration and taking much longer to complete a task.

Making occasional errors with calculations or following a recipe are more common age-related issues.


6. Putting things in the wrong place

Losing things or putting things in strange places, and then being unable to retrace steps to find them again.  Sometimes someone else might be accused of stealing which may occur more frequently over time.

More normal age-related behaviour includes losing things but being able to retrace the steps to finding them.


7. Rapid and unexplained mood swings and/or depression

Mood and personality changes could include becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious.  More easily upset at home or with friends or in places where they feel unsure.

More typical age-related behaviour is becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.


8. Listlessness and apathy

Early signs of dementia can also include avoiding being socialable, stopping with hobbies or going to work or playing sport.

Sometimes feeling weary of work, family or social activities is the more generally age-related norm.


9. Decreased or poor judgement

Changes in decision-making or judgement might include dealing with money or paying less attention to keeping clean and groomed.

This is different to making a bad decision once in a while.


10. Visual Difficulties

Vision problems may mean having difficult reading, judging distance or determining colours/contrast, which may cause problems driving.

Vision changes related to cataracts or age-related sight changes are more normal.


11. Specific to vascular dementia

  • Stroke-like symptoms including muscle weakness or partial paralysis.


12. Symptoms specific to Dementia with Lewy bodies

  • Hallucinations
  • Slower physical movements
  • Periods of drowsiness

Over time, the changes in the brain will begin to cause mild symptoms, but which are initially not bad enough to count as dementia. Subtle problems in areas such as memory, reasoning, planning or judgement 3 may cause difficulties with more demanding tasks (eg preparing a meal) but they will not yet significantly affect daily life. A person at this stage may be given a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). About 10–15 per cent of people with this diagnosis will go on to develop dementia each year.


We hope that this has given you some useful information on the early signs of dementia. You can find more information on the following useful organisations/websites:


Which.co.uk/elderly care


Dementia UK