Symptoms develop when the underlying condition affects areas of the brain involved with learning, memory, decision-making, and language.

Memory impairment is often the first symptom to be noticed. Someone with dementia may be unable to remember ordinary information, such as their birth date and address, and may be unable to recognize friends and family members.

There is progressive decline in these cognitive functions as well:

  • Decision making
  • Judgment
  • Orientation in time and space
  • Problem solving
  • Verbal communication

Behavioral changes may include the following:

  • Eating, dressing, toileting (e.g., unable to dress without help; becomes incontinent)
  • Interests (e.g., abandons hobbies)
  • Routine activities (e.g., unable to perform household tasks)
  • Personality (e.g., inappropriate responses, lack of emotional control)

Q: "I'm so forgetful. Could I have early dementia?"

A: Christina Frank, the executive editor of our sister publication REMEDY's Healthy Living (Summer 2015), says, "Do you do the thing where you walk into a room for a very specific reason and then instantly forget why you're there? I do that all the time!"

It's definitely unsettling when your formerly sharp-as-a-tack memory starts to fail you. A certain amount of forgetfulness is to be expected with age, however, due to the fact that neurons in the brain are gradually shrinking.

The difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and dementia is that the former is frustrating but not disabling. Another reassuring fact: People who worry about memory loss are less likely to actually suffer from a concerning memory condition. By contrast, people who do have a serious memory impairment tend to be unaware of their lapses and do not worry about them, or they attribute them to other causes.

Nonetheless, if memory lapses are interfering with your normal daily functioning or if close friends and relatives are concerned, talk to your doctor about whether you should undergo testing to see if there’s a more complex underlying cause.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015