Early Signs of Dementia: What Caregivers Need to Know

Dementia is a progressive brain disorder that causes a decline in cognitive function, memory loss, and behavioral changes. It is a major public health challenge, affecting an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

While there is no cure for dementia, early detection can play a crucial role in enabling timely intervention and effective management.

Statistics on Dementia

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dementia is a major public health challenge, affecting an estimated 50 million people worldwide. By 2050, this number is expected to reach 152 million.

In the United States, an estimated 5.8 million people have dementia. This number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050. 

Dementia stats in the UK

  • Number of people with dementia: There are an estimated 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK in 2023.
  • Age of onset: The average age of onset for dementia is 65 years in 2023. However, it can occur earlier or later.
  • Causes of dementia: The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for about 62% of cases in 2023. Other causes include vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.
  • Symptoms of dementia: The symptoms of dementia can vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include memory loss, difficulty thinking and problem-solving, changes in mood and behavior, and language problems.
  • Diagnosis of dementia: There is no single test for dementia, but a diagnosis is usually made based on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and neuropsychological testing.
  • Treatment for dementia: There is no cure for dementia, but there are treatments that can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. These treatments include medications, lifestyle changes, and supportive care.

Identifying Early Signs of Dementia

Dementia gets worse over time. Memory loss gets worse too. So if someone starts forgetting recent things, it’s important they see the doctor.

As well as having trouble remembering, they might also struggle to find words or follow conversations.

Noticing issues with memory, speech, or understanding means the person could get diagnosed with dementia earlier.

If diagnosed sooner, they can start treatment and support sooner. This makes daily life better for them and their caregivers.

Catching the early signs is key. It means better medical care and help with dementia sooner rather than later.

Dementia Infographics shows different risk associated, symptoms and preventions

Image by macrovector on Freepik

Timely Intervention and Effective Management

Early detection of dementia empowers individuals and healthcare professionals to implement appropriate interventions and management strategies. By identifying the signs early on, individuals can:

  • Access treatment options: Early diagnosis allows individuals to explore available medical treatments, such as medication and therapy, which can slow down the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms.
  • Plan for the future: Knowing the diagnosis in advance enables individuals to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare, financial matters, and legal affairs. It allows them to communicate their wishes and preferences to their loved ones and healthcare providers.
  • Benefit from support services: Early detection opens the door to a range of support services tailored to the needs of individuals and their caregivers. These services may include counseling, support groups, respite care, and educational resources, all aimed at improving the quality of life for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers.
  • Implement lifestyle modifications: Early detection provides an opportunity for individuals to make lifestyle changes that can positively impact their cognitive health. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and stimulating mental activities are among the strategies that can help slow down the progression of dementia.

Improved Quality of Life

One of the most significant advantages of early detection is the potential for an improved quality of life for individuals with dementia and their caregivers. Early intervention and management can:

  • Enable better care planning: Identifying dementia signs at an early stage allows caregivers and healthcare providers to develop comprehensive care plans tailored to the individual’s specific needs. This includes providing emotional support, managing symptoms, and adapting living environments to ensure safety and comfort.
  • Enhance emotional well-being: Early diagnosis offers individuals and their families an opportunity to come to terms with the diagnosis and seek emotional support. By accessing counseling and support groups, individuals can address the psychological and emotional impact of the disease and develop coping strategies.
  • Foster meaningful relationships: Recognizing dementia signs early on allows individuals to communicate their diagnosis to family, friends, and loved ones. This opens up avenues for understanding, empathy, and supportive relationships that can contribute to a sense of belonging and social connectedness.

The importance of recognizing early signs of dementia cannot be overstated. Timely detection allows individuals to access appropriate medical treatment, support services, and plan for the future. Early intervention enhances the quality of life for both individuals with dementia and their caregivers, fostering emotional well-being, and facilitating meaningful relationships.

Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline: The Initial Warning Signs

Memory loss is often one of the earliest and most prominent indicators of dementia.

It is important to understand the different types of memory affected in the early stages of dementia, such as short-term memory and recent event recall.

This knowledge can help you recognize the initial warning signs of the condition.

1. Having Short Memory of Things

Short-term memory means remembering information for a short while. It lets you recall stuff that just happened.

This type of memory usually gets damaged first with early dementia.

Some examples of short-term memory issues:

  • Forgetting recent chats: Can’t remember a conversation from yesterday
  • Misplacing items: Putting objects in strange places and can’t find them later
  • Trouble recalling plans: Forgetting appointments or events coming up unless reminded over and over

Losing short-term memory makes it tough for people to hold onto and remember information from even just hours or days before. This starts interfering with everyday situations and tasks.

But getting medical attention quickly after noticing these memory problems can really help the person cope better.

2. Knowing What Happen Lately

People with early dementia also have trouble remembering recent events. This can be confusing and frustrating.

Examples of memory issues:

  • Forgetting recent trips or activities: Even special outings might be forgotten fast.
  • Losing track of daily routines: Steps in daily tasks can be hard to recall, like taking pills or making a meal.
  • Difficulty with instructions: Multi-step instructions are tough to remember and follow right, like recipes or using gadgets.

Even life events from the last few days or weeks start to slip away. Routine daily activity order becomes hard to keep straight. Simple things end up being complicated.

This short-term memory loss causes real issues. But catching it early allows quicker medical support and life improvements.

3. Finding Words and Meaning Difficult

People with early dementia start having problems with day-to-day memory. They might:

  • Forget chats from the day before
  • Misplace their keys or wallet
  • Struggle to remember appointments

Losing memory of recent things is an early red flag. As dementia gets worse, memory gets even worse. So it’s important the person sees their GP if this happens.

On top of forgetting stuff, people also start struggling with words. They might:

  • Have long pauses finding words in conversations
  • Use general words like “thingy” instead of specific names
  • Find it hard to follow along with chatter

Noticing issues with memory, talking properly, or understanding language means dementia might be diagnosed sooner.

If spotted early, treatment and support can start sooner too. This gives a better daily life for them and their caregivers.

Knowing the early signs of dementia

Memory problems are an early warning sign of dementia. A person with early dementia often starts having trouble with everyday memory tasks. They may struggle to:

  • Remember a conversation from yesterday
  • Find things they have misplaced
  • Recall what they did that morning or the day before

Losing memory of recent events—like talks, plans, where you put your keys—is a red flag. It shows the brain is starting to have trouble making new memories.

As dementia gets worse over time, memory loss gets worse too. That’s why it’s key to see a doctor if you notice these early signs.

On top of forgetting recent things, people with early dementia also start having trouble finding the right words in conversations. Understanding others becomes hard as well.

Noticing early issues like forgetting, poor speech, or confusion means dementia can be diagnosed sooner. Then the person can:

  • Get medical help earlier
  • Start treatment sooner
  • Benefit from more support

This improves daily life for those with dementia and their caregivers. Catching early signs promptly leads to better care.

Dementia Care Central infographics on the 7 stages of dementia

Source: Dementia Care Central

Tips for Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia

  • Pay attention to changes in your loved one’s memory and thinking. If they seem to be forgetting things more often, having trouble following instructions, or getting lost in familiar places, it’s important to talk to their doctor.
  • Keep a record of your loved one’s symptoms. This can help you track their progress and share it with their doctor.
  • Ask your loved one about their concerns. They may be aware of changes in their memory and thinking, and they may be able to provide you with helpful information.
  • Be patient and supportive. Dementia can be a challenging diagnosis, but it’s important to be patient and supportive of your loved one.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have dementia, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help improve quality of life and slow the progression of the disease.

Language and Communication Difficulties

Language and communication skills are essential for our daily interactions, and they can be significantly affected in the early stages of dementia.

Understanding how dementia impacts language and communication can help individuals, caregivers, and healthcare professionals provide appropriate support and enhance effective communication.

Word-Finding Difficulties

One of the most common language-related symptoms in early dementia is word-finding difficulty. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon: Individuals may feel like they know a word, but they cannot quite remember it.
  • Circumlocution: Individuals may describe the desired word or object using other words or provide detailed explanations instead of using the precise term.
  • Substituting words: Individuals may use general terms or placeholder words when they cannot recall specific names.

Having problem talking with people

Engaging in conversations can also become increasingly challenging for individuals with early-stage dementia. They may experience difficulties following the flow of conversation, maintaining coherence, and comprehending complex sentences. Some language-related symptoms in conversations may include:

  • Losing track of the topic: Individuals may have difficulty staying focused on the subject of conversation and can become easily distracted.
  • Repeating themselves: They may unintentionally repeat certain phrases or stories, indicating difficulties in organizing and recalling information.
  • Misinterpreting cues: Individuals might misinterpret non-verbal cues, tone of voice, or subtleties in communication, leading to misunderstandings.

Problems expressing thoughts in a clear way

Dementia can also impair an individual’s ability to express their thoughts and ideas clearly. This can result in fragmented or disjointed speech, making it challenging for others to understand their intended message. Some language-related symptoms when expressing thoughts may include:

  • Difficulty forming sentences: Individuals may struggle to structure their sentences, leading to incomplete or grammatically incorrect speech.
  • Decreased vocabulary: They may have a reduced repertoire of words, resulting in simplified language usage.
  • Lack of coherence: Thoughts and ideas may be expressed in a disorganized manner, making it harder for others to follow their train of thought.

Practical Tips for Effective Communication

There are a number of practical tips that can help to improve communication with individuals experiencing early language and communication difficulties. These include:

  • Use simple language and short sentences: Communicate in a clear and concise manner, avoiding complex language or lengthy explanations.
  • Provide visual cues and gestures: Support verbal communication with non-verbal cues, gestures, and visual aids to enhance understanding.
  • Be patient and allow extra time: Give individuals ample time to process information and respond. Avoid rushing or interrupting during conversations.
  • Focus on the present and positive topics: Discussing familiar and positive subjects can help individuals feel more engaged and confident in their communication.
  • Practice active listening: Show genuine interest and attentiveness during conversations, maintaining eye contact and actively listening to what the individual is saying.

Caregivers and communication partners can help to foster effective communication by following these tips. They can also maintain connection and reduce frustration for individuals experiencing early language and communication challenges.

Symptoms of language and communication

The symptoms of language and communication difficulties in early dementia can vary from person to person. However, the tips for effective communication listed above can be helpful for all individuals experiencing these challenges.

It is important to note that dementia is a progressive disease, and the symptoms of language and communication difficulties may worsen over time. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.

Behavioral and Mood Changes: Recognizing Emotional Shifts

The early stages of dementia can bring about significant changes in an individual’s mood and behavior. These changes can be challenging for both the individual and their caregivers. Understanding them is crucial for providing appropriate support and managing the associated symptoms.

Some of the most common mood-related symptoms experienced in early dementia include:

  • Irritability: Individuals may become more easily frustrated or restless, and they may display increased sensitivity to changes in their environment.
  • Anxiety: Feelings of unease, worry, or fear may become more prevalent, particularly in response to confusion or unfamiliar situations.
  • Depression: Individuals may experience persistent feelings of sadness. Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or changes in appetite and sleep patterns may also occur.
  • Social withdrawal: Individuals may struggle with communication difficulties or feel overwhelmed by their cognitive challenges. As a result, they may decrease their social engagement and prefer solitude.

Strategies for Managing Behavioral Changes

There are a number of strategies that can help to manage behavioral changes associated with dementia. These include:

  • Maintaining a consistent routine: A structured daily routine can provide a sense of familiarity and security, which can help to reduce anxiety and irritability.
  • Creating a calm environment: Reducing excess noise, providing proper lighting, and minimizing clutter can help to create a peaceful atmosphere that is conducive to relaxation and focus.
  • Practicing validation and empathy: When an individual with dementia expresses difficult emotions, it is important to listen with understanding and empathy. Avoid trying to correct or dismiss their feelings, as this can make them feel invalidated and misunderstood.
  • Engaging in enjoyable activities: Encouraging participation in activities that bring pleasure and enhance well-being can help to improve mood and reduce stress levels. These activities should be tailored to the individual’s abilities and interests.
  • Fostering social connections: Facilitating social interactions through family visits, engagement with support groups, or participation in community programs can help to reduce social isolation and improve mood.
  • Seeking professional support: If behavioral changes are severe or disruptive, it is important to seek professional support from a healthcare provider or dementia specialist. They can provide guidance on managing behavioral changes and accessing appropriate interventions.

Support for Caregivers

Caregivers play a vital role in managing behavioral changes in individuals with dementia. They can provide support and guidance, and they can also advocate for the individual’s needs. Some tips for caregivers include:

  • Educating yourself about dementia: Understanding the condition can help caregivers better understand and cope with behavioral changes.
  • Seeking support networks: There are many caregiver support groups and organizations available that can provide resources, guidance, and a platform to share experiences.
  • Prioritizing self-care: Caregivers need to take care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. This means taking breaks, engaging in activities for personal well-being, and asking for help when needed.
  • Communicating with healthcare professionals: Regularly consult healthcare professionals for advice, guidance, and updates on managing behavioral changes.

Emotional and behavioral changes are common in the early stages of dementia. By recognizing these changes and implementing effective strategies, individuals and caregivers can improve the quality of life for everyone involved. It is important to remember that caregivers should prioritize self-care and seek support from caregiver networks and healthcare professionals to navigate the challenges associated with these behavioral changes.

Executive Functioning Impairment: Struggles with Decision-Making and Planning

Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills that allow us to plan, organize, and complete tasks. They are essential for our daily lives, and they can be significantly affected by dementia.

In the early stages of dementia, individuals may experience difficulties with executive functions, including:

  • Problem-solving: They may struggle to identify solutions to everyday problems or find it challenging to adapt to new situations.
  • Decision-making: Making choices, weighing pros and cons, and evaluating consequences can become overwhelming or confusing.
  • Planning and organizing: Difficulties may arise in initiating and following through with tasks, creating routines, or managing time effectively.

These difficulties can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to function independently. They may struggle to manage their finances, complete household chores, or even remember to take their medication.

Challenges in Daily Activities

Executive functioning impairment can affect an individual’s ability to engage in daily activities and tasks. Common challenges include:

  • Organizing tasks: Individuals may have difficulty prioritizing tasks, breaking them down into manageable steps, or maintaining focus to complete them.
  • Managing finances: Keeping track of expenses, budgeting, and handling financial responsibilities may become increasingly complex.
  • Completing self-care activities: Individuals may struggle with activities such as dressing, grooming, or meal preparation due to difficulties in planning and sequencing the steps involved.

Practical Tips and Strategies

There are some handy tips to help someone having trouble with planning, organizing, and doing things. These tips can make daily life a bit easier:

  • Break big tasks down into smaller, easier steps
  • Use checklists, calendars, labeled bins to stay organized
  • Give gentle reminders and prompts if needed
  • Offer some support but let the person still make choices
  • Keep routines consistent and predictable
  • Ask experts like occupational therapists for additional personalized advice

Following this practical guidance allows someone with difficulties managing life tasks to keep some independence. It can make each day less frustrating.

Examples of useful tips are:

  • Using calendars or reminders
  • Breaking big jobs down into smaller steps
  • Sticking to consistent routines

Caregivers should understand these challenges and how providing simple supports can make a difference.

Little assists can make a big difference. Carers who get how dementia affects planning and doing chores know how to give support while still letting the person manage some things themselves.

This keeps confidence up.

Spatial and Navigation Problems: Getting Lost in Familiar Territory

Dementia can really impact someone’s sense of direction early on. It means people can get lost easily, even on their own street. Understanding this helps make the person’s environment safer for managing.

Studies show symptoms linked to getting mixed up over directions happen a lot with early dementia. Researchers writing in Alzheimer’s magazines in 2020 found those with dementia struggled with navigation more than people without it. Issues with memory and planning were also connected.

Knowing dementia steals abilities that help someone make their way round is key. It shows why familiar places become puzzling.

Small assists in the person’s living space can then set them up for success better. This knowledge gives power to handle problems as a team.

Even when skills like spatial awareness fade, coping as carers gets boosted in take their place – reducing risks and worry for all.

1. Getting confused about places

Individuals with early-stage dementia may experience various difficulties related to spatial awareness and navigation, including:

  • Disorientation in familiar environments: They may have trouble recognizing familiar places, such as their own home or neighborhood, leading to confusion and a sense of being lost.
  • Difficulty with directions: Individuals may struggle to follow directions, remember routes, or comprehend maps, making it challenging to navigate unfamiliar locations.
  • Impaired depth perception: Changes in visual perception can impact the ability to judge distances accurately, leading to potential accidents or falls.

2. Trouble of dementia individual finding your way

Dementia can cause problems with knowing where you are and getting around.

A person might:

  • Wander about when confused, not sure where to go
  • Struggle to find their way back somewhere familiar
  • Feel lost even on their own street

Places that used to be easy to navigate now seem unfamiliar. This causes stress for the person and their carers.

But there are some handy things that can help:

  • Marking walking paths clearly
  • Going for walks together
  • Using GPS trackers when out alone

Understanding why someone might get lost where they are usually fine can lead to good solutions. Working together makes everyday life less worrying.

Small assists improve safety and direction when dementia jumbles the brain’s map.

Creating a Safe and Supportive Living Environment

There are a number of things that can be done to create a safe and supportive living environment for individuals with spatial impairment. These include:

  • Clear signage and cues: Label doors, cabinets, and other key areas to assist individuals in navigating their living environment.
  • Reduce clutter and hazards: Minimize obstacles and remove potential tripping hazards to create a safer living space.
  • Adequate lighting: Ensure proper lighting throughout the living area to enhance visibility and minimize confusion.
  • Use memory aids: Employ memory aids, such as prominent calendars or reminder boards, to help individuals maintain a sense of time and routine.
  • Secure the living area: Install secure locks or alarms on doors and windows to prevent individuals from wandering outside unsupervised.
  • Engage in cognitive exercises: Encourage activities that stimulate spatial awareness and cognitive function, such as puzzles or memory games.

Spatial impairment is a common challenge in early dementia. By understanding the impact of dementia on spatial awareness and navigation, and implementing practical strategies, individuals and caregivers can help to maintain safety and quality of life.

Seeking Medical Evaluation: When to Consult a Healthcare Professional

The early stages of dementia can be a challenging time for individuals and their loved ones. As cognitive abilities decline, it can be difficult to know when to seek medical advice. However, it is important to remember that early diagnosis and intervention can lead to a better quality of life for individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

The Importance of Seeking Medical Evaluation

There are a number of reasons why it is important to seek medical evaluation if you are experiencing early signs of dementia. These include:

  • Early diagnosis: Early diagnosis allows for early intervention and treatment, which can help to slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life.
  • Access to treatment options: There are a number of treatment options available for dementia, and early diagnosis can help you to access these options as soon as possible.
  • Support services: There are a number of support services available for individuals with dementia and their caregivers. Early diagnosis can help you to connect with these services.

The Evaluation Process

Steps to check for dementia usually includes a number of different things, including:

  • Doctors use thinking skill checks and tests to spot dementia and measure its impacts.
  • Checks that look at memory, focus, problem-solving and speech help identify any cognitive slide.
  • Medical tests like bloods, brain scans, genetics help rule out unrelated causes. They also assess brain health.
  • Chats with specialists like neurologists and experienced doctors allow full appraisal. Together they consider treatments to possibly help ease symptoms and make daily life steadier.
  • Getting answers empowers the person and carers to put practical assists in place. It also prepares on what to expect as the condition progresses.

Spotting changes early and following up with thorough evaluations provides everyone more control. This knowledge spreads confidence to support each new day.

Preparing for the Evaluation

There are a number of things you can do to prepare for the evaluation process, including:

  • Gathering information: Prior to the evaluation, compile a list of symptoms, their duration, and any relevant medical history or medications.
  • Involving caregivers or loved ones: If possible, bring a trusted caregiver or loved one who can provide additional information and support during the evaluation.
  • Asking questions: Prepare a list of questions or concerns to discuss with the healthcare professional. Also ensuring a clear understanding of the evaluation process, potential diagnoses, and available treatment options.

Engaging in Open Discussions

It is important to be open and honest with your healthcare provider during the evaluation process. This includes sharing all relevant information, such as your symptoms, medical history, and medications. It is also important to ask questions and to get clarification on any aspect of the evaluation or diagnosis that you do not understand.

By actively participating in the medical evaluation process, individuals and their caregivers can gain valuable insights into dementia. They can also clarify concerns and collaborate with healthcare professionals to develop an effective management plan.

Importance of Dementia Training for Caregivers

Caring for someone with dementia can be challenging and demanding, both physically and emotionally. Dementia training can help caregivers to better understand the disease, its symptoms, and how to provide care.

Benefits of Dementia Training for Caregivers

There are many benefits to dementia training for caregivers, including:

  • Increased knowledge about dementia: Dementia training can help caregivers to better understand the disease, its symptoms, and its progression. This knowledge can help caregivers to provide more informed and effective care.
  • Improved communication skills: Dementia training can help caregivers to develop better communication skills. This can help them to communicate more effectively with the person with dementia, as well as with other healthcare professionals and family members.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety: Dementia training can help caregivers to cope with the stress and anxiety that can be associated with caring for someone with dementia. This can help caregivers to better manage their own emotions and to provide more supportive care.
  • Increased confidence: Dementia training can help caregivers to feel more confident in their ability to provide care. This can help caregivers to feel more empowered and to better advocate for the person with dementia.

How to Find Dementia Training

There are many different ways to find dementia training. Some options include:

  • Online courses: There are a number of online dementia courses that offer dementia training, such as our Dementia Awareness Training online course. These courses can be a convenient and affordable way to learn about dementia.
  • In-person classes: We also offer in-person training on dementia which is also a comprehensive package. You can read the full detail of the dementia awareness course outline by following the link. Aside, we have a Dementia train the trainer course. This is ideal for those looking to start teaching dementia awareness courses or anyone looking to refresh their own teaching skills and content in relation to dementia training.
  • Support groups: Support groups can also be a great way to learn about dementia. In addition to learning about the disease, support groups can also provide caregivers with a sense of community and support.

Caring for Care offers both online and in-person classes on dementia to support caregivers. Our courses are delivered by experienced healthcare professionals and cover a range of topics, including the different types of dementia, the symptoms of dementia, and how to provide care for someone with dementia.

Conclusion on early signs of dementia

Early diagnosis and intervention are essential for people with dementia and their caregivers. By recognizing early signs of dementia, individuals can seek appropriate medical advice. Early assessment and support can help people live well with dementia. Likewise, early evaluations and support can help manage dementia

It is crucial for individuals and caregivers to seek support and access appropriate care. Resources such as dementia support groups, caregiver networks, and healthcare professionals specializing in dementia care can offer guidance, education, and emotional support.

Remember, early action is key. If you or a loved one are experiencing early signs of dementia, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional. With timely intervention, understanding, and support, it is possible to enhance the quality of life and make a positive impact on the dementia journey.

Here are some specific ways to empower early action and support:

  • Learn about dementia.
  • Talk to your doctor.
  • Join a support group.
  • Be your own advocate.

By taking these steps, you can empower yourself and your loved one to take action early and get the support you need.


  • Alzheimer’s Society: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/
  • Dementia UK: https://www.dementiauk.org/
  • NHS Dementia: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dementia/
  • World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia
  • Journal of Alzheimers Disease & Parkinsonism: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-benefits-of-cognitive-stimulation-or-trainingrehabilitation-upon-brain-function-as-an-efficacious-treatment-for-diagnosed-dementia-or-mild-cognitive-decline-2161-0460-1000161.php?aid=32125

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