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Many adults worry about loved ones experiencing cognitive decline as they age. One very common concern is dementia. It can be hard to distinguish simple moments of forgetfulness with dementia. Normal aging does often come with slowed-down processing as well as some forgetfulness. However, dementia is different, involving the decline of cognitive function, including language ability, memory, and problem-solving. It also affects simple day-to-day tasks. This can be troubling for the loved ones of adults suffering from dementia.

Individuals with dementia don't only experience impairment in their cognitive function. The unfortunate reality is that it also impacts emotional health, behavior, and motor skills. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from dementia, you should be aware of its symptoms. Here are seven warning signs to look out for.

1. Impaired Memory

Impaired Memory

Memory loss is one of the most commonly discussed symptoms of dementia. This can include forgetting information that was recently learned, as well as things that were previously known. An individual with dementia might ask the same questions repeatedly, despite hearing the same answers. Memory loss can also impact how a person with dementia may speak. Many people with dementia have trouble remembering words and speak in irregular patterns. Impaired memory and trouble remembering words are often some of the early signs of dementia.

Did You Know: Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used synonymously, but are not the same thing. While dementia is the overarching term to describe a loss of cognitive function, it is not a disease. Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes symptoms of dementia.1

2. Organizing and Planning Difficulty

Planning Difficulty
Another early symptom of dementia is the ability to stay organized. Oftentimes, individuals have a harder time making plans. Multiple streams of information can be especially difficult. You might notice that these individuals may start forgetting appointments or paying bills. Individuals with dementia will eventually need assistance in many day-to-day tasks.

3. Recognition Worsens

Recognition Worsens

This symptom can often be one of the most heartbreaking for loved ones. As dementia worsens, it is common for adults to forget who the people around them are. Friends and family members are mistaken for others, and sometimes familiar faces become unrecognizable altogether. Recognition of places and things can also worsen, and previously frequented locations may be confused or forgotten about. Loved ones must learn to practice patience and empathy as recognition begins to fade.

Did You Know: Roughly one-third of adults over the age of 85 have some form of dementia.2

4. Wandering


Individuals with dementia may wander from time to time. This behavioral symptom may be particularly worrisome, as it can be dangerous. Many wander because of confusion and disorientation. Wandering is the result of adults experiencing a desire for previous routines (such as going to work), boredom, or the search for something. Although wandering can be scary for the family members of an adult with dementia, there are ways to prevent it from happening. Some ways to deter wandering include helping individuals develop and maintain a routine, plan outings around typical times of restlessness and agitation, avoid busy places, and encourage exercise.

5.Trouble Following Directions or Navigating Familiar Routes

Trouble Following Directions
Individuals with dementia have a difficult time following instructions and directions from others. Even previously familiar routes start to become unknown. This can be dangerous for adults who wish to walk or drive to complete errands independently. This can be avoided with proper supervision. Having a caregiver available at all times, or at least when typical wandering occurs, is ideal. It can also be a good idea to put safety locks on doors to deter individuals with dementia from walking out the front door when no one is watching. It is also important to make sure that car keys are hidden away, out of sight.

6. Behavioral and Psychological Changes

Behavioral Changes

One of the saddest parts about watching a loved one deal with dementia is the emotional changes they go through. Behavioral and psychological symptoms can be quite distressing for both those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. Some of these symptoms can include depression, agitation, paranoia, restlessness, and even hallucinations. This can create a sense of loss for family members, especially if these symptoms are out of character for the individual.

7. Motor Function Differences

Motor skills

Dementia can also include the decline of certain motor skills. Some symptoms to look out for include poor balance, falling, muscle jerks and twitching, incontinence, tremors, poor coordination, and trouble speaking. These symptoms can often hinder day-to-day tasks, such as getting dressed. Adults with dementia will likely have one or more of these symptoms, along with the cognitive and emotional symptoms mentioned.

Pro Tip: It's important to get a medical diagnosis to investigate the underlying cause of dementia. Your provider will perform a physical exam, blood tests, and brain scans. The results will help in determining a treatment plan.3

Final Thoughts

Watching a close friend or family member experience dementia is heartbreaking. It's critical that we look out for its signs and understand the difference between the ailment and normal aging. If you suspect a loved one has dementia, it's important to get a proper diagnosis, so that you can begin to prepare and take precautions. Our guides to dementia and memory care can help you get started.

Watch our video interview with geropsychologist Abby Altman to learn more about the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.

Written By

Taylor Shuman

Senior Tech Expert & Editor

For over five years, Taylor has been writing, editing, and researching products and services covering topics such as senior care and technology, Internet and the digital divide, TV, and entertainment, and education. Her research on media consumption and consumer behavior has been… Learn More About Taylor Shuman