Dementia can be a symptom of a variety of health issues, including Alzheimer’s disease and other problems that cause changes in your brain. While it is rare for younger people (in theirs 20s and 30s) to develop the condition, it is possible to experience signs of early-onset dementia. So let’s talk about what dementia might look like, and what you should watch out for.
“‘Early-onset dementia’ is an ambiguous term used by doctors for at least three different disorders,” Dr. Howard Fillit, founding executive director and chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, tells Bustle. “The signs are generally the same, whether you develop Alzheimer’s in your 30s or 80s.” As you may know, symptoms of dementia are mainly memory based, but can also include mood and personality changes.
Again, this isn’t the most common condition for younger people to experience, so you certainly shouldn’t assume you have dementia if you’re kind of forgetful or if you’re feeling a bit foggy. You should, however, talk with your doctor if those feelings get progressively worse, or if they start seriously impacting your life. Read on for some common signs of early-onset dementia, so you can figure out what’s wrong and then get as much help as possible.
1. You’ve Been Experiencing Memory Changes
If you’re developing dementia, one of the first symptoms you might experience is a change in your ability to remember things, which might include forgetting what you just got up to do, or losing your train of thought mid-sentence.
“Signs of early-onset dementia include short-term memory changes, often described as an ‘inability to keep a thought in your head,'” Dr. Faisal Tawwab, MD, tells Bustle. So, if your words escape you, or you’ve suddenly become super forgetful, take note.
2. You Suddenly Despise Any Kind Of Change
When dementia sufferers are experiencing confusion and memory changes, it’s common for them to stick to a strict routine, as a way to coping and feeling safer.
That’s why, as Dr. Scott Schreiber tells Bustle, a lack of desire to try something new, or to deviate from your usual path, may be a sign of memory changes.
This might take the form of sticking to the same route on your way to work, or taking the same streets to get to the grocery store. But it’s not just about the routine — since many people have a preferred way of getting places — but the reasons why you’re always following the same path.
If you get confused when going another way, for example, or feel incredibly disoriented when deviating from your usual path, there’s a chance it’s an early warning sign of dementia.
3. You Keep Getting Lost
The confusion associated with dementia can cause you to feel lost more often, possibly while on your way somewhere new. But it can even happen when heading somewhere you’ve been dozens of times. For example, as Dr. Schreiber says, “you may find that you are using your GPS to go to places that you knew how to get to previously.”
Of course, we all get turned around on occasion, so you won’t want to assume you have dementia just because you get lost while out driving or walking. And the same is true if you’ve always been bad with directions, or simply prefer sticking to a beaten path.
If you develop a new sense of disorientation, however, or find yourself getting lost on familiar roads, let a doctor know.
4. You Can’t Remember Anyone’s Name
Recalling information is another issue many people with dementia can struggle with, so consider it a red flag if you can no longer remember people’s names.
“When at a social gathering, you [might] forget names of people you just met,” Dr. Schreiber says. Or you might not be able to remember a friend’s name when telling a story.
If you’ve always been bad with names then this shouldn’t be a cause for concern. But if you find yourself blanking on a more regular basis, it may be time to get yourself checked.
5. Your Behaviors & Moods Have Changed
While it’s totally normal to experience mood changes throughout the day, a major shift in your personality can be a sign of early-onset dementia. And this is something you may pick up on, or it may be pointed out by a friend.
As Dr. Tawwab says, “A significant shift in personality, like shy to outgoing, can represent a decrease in awareness of inhibitions,” which can be a sign of dementia-related changes in the brain. Usually, this is due to the loss of neurons, and the type of behavioral change involved can depend on the part of the brain affected.
When the frontal lobe is impacted, for example, a person might experience changes in their ability to focus or pay attention, since that’s the area responsible for those actions.
6. You’re Suddenly Bad At Making Decisions
Indecisiveness isn’t always a sign of dementia. Some folks just aren’t good at making up their mind, and that’s OK. But a sudden inability to plan and organize, in a way that negatively impacts your life, may indicate a problem with your “executive function.”
As Dr. Fillit says, “This covers our ability to plan, organize, focus, and reason. You might find it difficult to make decisions or to focus enough to complete tasks with multiple steps, such as cooking or getting dressed.”
If this problem is out of character for you, or seems to be getting worse, let a doctor know.
7. You Can’t Remember That Restaurant’s Name
If you constantly forget what you had for breakfast, or can’t recall the name of that restaurant you just went to, consider it a red flag. “The most common sign [of dementia] is memory problems that interfere with your daily life,” Dr. Fillit says. “You may have trouble remembering familiar names or places on a regular basis.”
It may not seem like a big deal. But if you find yourself struggling to remember details like these, or if this has become a frustrating problem, point it out to a doctor so they can monitor the situation.
8. You’ve Been Getting Easily Confused
Another typical sign of dementia, that may seem a bit bizarre, is forgetting what to do with everyday objects. According to Jessica Zwerling, MD, MS, director of the Memory Disorders Center at the Montefiore Health System, you might momentarily forget where to put your groceries, for example, or how to use your phone.
It can be a scary experience, and is definitely something you’ll want to point out to a doctor. And the same is true if you experience other forms of forgetfulness, such as suddenly needing to follow a recipe for dishes you make all the time. It’s this inability to remember simple, everyday things that can be cause for concern.
9. You Struggle To Recall What You Just Read
Most dementia symptoms will have an affect on your memory, in some way, shape, or form. So it makes sense it can impact your ability to read — and remember what you just read — as well.
As Zerling says, many people with early-onset dementia find that they need to start taking notes while they’re reading, in order to remember what’s going on in the story.
Taking notes, of course, can be a good way to keep track or information, especially if you’re studying. And thus it isn’t a surefire sign of dementia. But if your note-taking is due to a newly developed memory problem, it may a symptom worth looking into.
10. You Struggle To Learn New Things
It can be tough to learn new skills, but people with dementia often have a particularly difficult time. If you have early-onset dementia, Zwerling says you might struggle with things like learning how to use a new tool, or when developing a new skill.
You might also notice that you’re suddenly struggling to work with numbers, or that you can’t easily develop or follow a plan. If these traits have always been part of your personality, then you probably don’t have to worry. But don’t hesitate to get more information about your health should these things seem out of the ordinary, or if they start to negatively impact your day.
11. You’re Experiencing Depression
Since life can become confusing and stressful when you’re dealing with early-onset dementia, Zwerling says it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms of depression, too. And while there are many of other reasons you might be feeling down, if it’s accompanied by memory-related issues, early-onset dementia may be an underlying condition worth considering as a possible cause.
These symptoms can be chalked up to a variety of different health concerns, and may not have anything to do with early-onset dementia — especially if you’re young. But if you’ve noticed any of these changes, or feel as if your confusion and memory problems are getting worse, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about them and get more information.