The 10 warning signs of dementia

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Whether you’re concerned for yourself or someone you care about, it's important to know the warning signs of dementia so you can ensure an early diagnosis. Here are 10 of the most common warning signs for dementia.

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Download our brochure on the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia. This information is also available as a one-page illustrated handout. Physical copies of these resources can be found at your local Alzheimer Society.

Sign 1: Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities

Are you, or the person you know, forgetting things often or struggling to retain new information?

It's normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues’ names or a friend’s phone number only to remember them a short while later. However, a person living with dementia may forget things more often or may have difficulty recalling information that has recently been learned.

Sign 2: Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Are you, or the person you know, forgetting how to do a typical routine or task, such as preparing a meal or getting dressed?

Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may forget to serve part of a meal, only to remember about it later. However, a person living with dementia may have trouble completing tasks that have been familiar to them all their lives, such as preparing a meal or playing a game.

Sign 3: Problems with language

Are you, or the person you know, forgetting words or substituting words that don’t fit into a conversation?

Anyone can have trouble finding the right word to express what they want to say. However, a person living with dementia may forget simple words or may substitute words such that what they are saying is difficult to understand.

Sign 4: Disorientation in time and space

Are you, or the person you know, having problems knowing what day of the week it is or getting lost in a familiar place?

It's common to forget the day of the week or one's destination – for a moment. But people living with dementia can become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.

Sign 5: Impaired judgement

Are you, or the person you know, not recognizing something that can put health and safety at risk?

From time to time, people may make questionable decisions such as putting off seeing a doctor when they are not feeling well. However, a person living with dementia may experience changes in judgment or decision-making, such as not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.

Sign 6: Problems with abstract thinking

Are you, or the person you know, having problems understanding what numbers and symbols mean?

From time to time, people may have difficulty with tasks that require abstract thinking, such as using a calculator or balancing a chequebook. However, someone living with dementia may have significant difficulties with such tasks because of a loss of understanding what numbers are and how they are used.

Sign 7: Misplacing things

Are you, or the person you know, putting things in places where they shouldn't be?

Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. However, a person living with dementia may put things in inappropriate places. For example, an iron in the freezer, or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

Sign 8: Changes in mood and behaviour

Are you, or the person you know, exhibiting severe changes in mood?

Anyone can feel sad or moody from time to time. However, someone living with dementia can show varied mood swings – from calmness to tears to anger – for no apparent reason.

Sign 9: Changes in personality

Are you, or the person you know, behaving in a way that's out of character?

Personalities can change in subtle ways over time. However, a person living with dementia may experience more striking personality changes and can become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include lack of interest or fearfulness.

Sign 10: Loss of initiative

Are you, or the person you know, losing interest in friends, family and favourite activities?

It's normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. However, a person living with dementia may become passive and disinterested, and require cues and prompting to become involved.

Disclaimer

While these signs apply to the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, they may also align with other types of dementia. However, not all symptoms for each type are listed on this page. Visit our section on the other types of dementia to know the specific symptoms for each type.

Why is it so important to catch these warning signs early on? You can get the benefits of an early diagnosis.

If you are concerned about any of these signs, the next step is to talk to your doctor. Only a qualified healthcare provider, after multiple assessment and tests, can confirm whether you or someone you know has dementia.

More useful links and resources

https://archive.alzheimer.ca/sites/default/files/files/national/core-lit-brochures/10-warning-signs_print-friendly.pdf

10 warning signs. Alzheimer Society of Canada. With the help of this downloadable brochure, you can identify the 10 signs of Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia.

https://archive.alzheimer.ca/sites/default/files/files/national/aw2015/10warningsigns_colour.pdf

Know the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer Society of Canada. This one-page, illustrated handout is an easy way to remember the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Talking to your doctor about dementia

Getting an official diagnosis begins with your family doctor. Your doctor can also help answer questions you may have about dementia. In preparation for your doctor's appointment, here are some helpful things to know and expect.

Learn more
Smiling senior woman talking to her doctor.