We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By clicking "Accept Cookies" or continuing to browse our website, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our Privacy Policy.

Browse by category
Woman leaning on man's shoulder

The Early Stages of Dementia: Recognizing the Signs and Reducing the Risk

dr-mo-elamir aviv-clinics
by Dr. Elamir, MD. , Physician
Woman leaning on man's shoulder
July 4, 2023

We all experience bouts of forgetfulness occasionally, even at a young age. You might blank on an old acquaintance’s name or walk into the kitchen thinking, “What did I come in here for?”

Neither necessarily indicates dementia is in its early stages. Maybe you didn’t have your morning coffee or slept poorly the night before. 

However, considering the growing rate of dementia in the U.S. and worldwide, it’s essential to recognize the early stages of dementia in yourself or your loved one. Education is the first step in taking control of your health. We’re here to help you get started.

What Is Dementia? 

Dementia is the progressive loss of cognitive functioning (i.e., thinking, remembering, and reasoning) that impacts a person’s quality of life. It ranges from mild to severe. 

More than 55 million people” in the world live with dementia. In the U.S., “experts report more than 7 million people ages 65 or older had dementia in 2020.”

Remember, dementia isn’t a single disease. Instead, it’s a general term covering a range of specific medical conditions (more on this soon). 

What Are the Early Signs of Dementia?

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory lapses: Someone might be unable to recall events or keep losing items around the home.
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing: Struggling to make complex decisions, plan events, or solve problems are a few common ways this can manifest.
  • Confusion surrounding typical daily routines: Activities like paying bills or navigating a drive home from the grocery store might be more challenging than usual.
  • Mood changes: Depression, anger, or irritability can become more frequent. An individual can feel more withdrawn and lose interest in hobbies and people who used to bring them joy.
  • Language/communication roadblocks: A person might have trouble grasping the right word or phrase or have wandering thoughts during conversation.
  • Instances of disorientation: An individual can no longer recognize where they are or how they got there.

Read about the signs and symptoms of cognitive decline>>


Diagnosis of Early Onset Dementia

As every individual is different and no specific test confirms dementia, a comprehensive evaluation is required. The assessment might involve various medical exams like cognitive tests and brain imaging

Early detection is critical to getting the help you need to thoroughly prepare following your diagnosis

Different Types of Dementia

Multiple diagnoses fall under the dementia umbrella and can produce unique symptoms in the early stages. 

Alzheimer’s Disease

While the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is still unknown, researchers note that the “build-up of proteins in and around brain cells” is a possibility. 

Initially, Alzheimer’s impacts the nerve cells controlling memory, language, and conscious thought. Damage then progresses to parts of the brain that manage reasoning and social behavior. 

These changes are not always apparent, especially not in the earliest stages. Alzheimer’s can develop for 1520 years before symptoms start to appear. Currently, it’s estimated that “6.2 million Americanslive with the disease.


Frontotemporal Dementia

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) results from damage to neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes—areas of the brain that oversee memory and auditory functioning. You may have heard of FTD when the press announced actor Bruce Willis’ diagnosis in 2022.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Unusual behaviors
  • Emotional problems
  • Trouble communicating
  • Difficulty with work
  • Challenges with walking

Example: Phineas Gage. A classic example involves a railroad construction worker from the 1800s named Phineas Gage, who is now considered the first patient in the history of neuroscience. Although not an example of dementia, Gage’s case offers insight into the importance of the frontal lobe and the functions it controls.  While working on the railroad, Gage suffered an accident in which a large iron rod penetrated his skull and frontal lobe, causing brain damage. 

Gage survived the incident, but his demeanor and personality changed completely. Previously known as a pleasant, hard-working “gentle giant,” he became, according to Dr. John Martyn Harlow, “…fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, manifesting but little deference for his fellows.”

Unlike Gage’s sudden change due to injury, the impacts of frontotemporal dementia develop gradually. The condition tends to strike individuals at a younger age than other forms of dementia. Roughly 60% of people with FTD are 45 to 64 years old.

Lewy Body Dementia

Many learned about Lewy body dementia (LBD) when it was revealed actor/comedian Robin Williams had suffered from the disease. LBD arises from abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain. 

These deposits, named “Lewy bodies,” affect brain chemicals, leading to problems with thinking, movement, behavior, and mood. Williams’ struggle with depression was likely a direct result of the chemical changes instigated by LBD.

LBD worsens over time but impacts certain individuals more severely than others. One challenge in diagnosing LBD is that it mimics indications of other brain diseases or psychiatric disorders.

Vascular Dementia

Vascular dementia results from conditions affecting the blood vessels in the brain

When blood and oxygen flow to the brain is interrupted, it can cause changes in memory, thinking, and behavior. The size, location, and number of vascular changes dictate how severe vascular dementia is on a person’s cognitive function.

For example, someone who has suffered a major stroke may experience damage—but so might someone who has had multiple small strokes over time. 

Growing research investigates the connection between cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke) and cerebrovascular disease (blood flow/vessel conditions)—and its impact on cognitive impairment and dementia. 

That said, not everyone who experiences a heart attack or stroke will develop dementia. The aging process can also contribute to the development of vascular dementia. The body simply loses its ability to deliver blood as efficiently as it once could.

Mixed Dementia & Related Diseases

If someone has characteristics of two or more types of dementia, they may receive a diagnosis of “mixed dementia.” Other neurological conditions can lead to symptoms of dementia, such as:

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD): This rare, degenerative, fatal brain disorder causes problems with muscle coordination, personality changes (including progressive and impaired thinking and judgment), and vision problems that may lead to blindness and involuntary muscle jerks. Individuals with CJD lose their ability to speak and move, eventually slipping into a coma.
  • HIV-Associated Dementia: While less of a problem now that the medical community has curbed the AIDS epidemic, HIV-associated dementia can cause behavioral changes and a gradual decline in cognitive function.
  • Huntington’s Disease: This inherited disease eventually leads to brain cell death and resulting complications. HD may cause changes in behavior, emotion, judgment, and cognitive function.

What Else Might Cause Early Signs of Dementia?

If you or a loved one experiences dementia-like symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean a dementia diagnosis is forthcoming. 

Other factors may lead to dementia-like symptoms. For example: 

  • Even a minor medical issue, like a urinary tract infection (UTI), can lead to confusion or delirium in older adults.
  • If someone doesn’t adhere to their blood sugar medication and their glucose levels drop, they may experience similar symptoms. 
  • Medication interactions (or medication/supplement interactions) may mimic symptoms of dementia. 

That’s why it’s essential for anyone taking medications or supplements to inform their doctor and pharmacist.


The Importance of Early Detection and Reducing Risk

Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for dementia. Medications have been employed to slow the progression of dementia but with little success. 

While there’s no standard early dementia onset treatment, there are steps you can take to optimize your health and reduce dementia risk:

  • Engage in cognitive stimulation activities: Just like any other muscle in the body, your brain needs regular exercise to function at optimal levels. Learn something new or dive into brain games like crossword puzzles or sudoku.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy weight: This includes sticking to a balanced diet like the MIND diet, engaging in physical activity you enjoy, and abstaining from smoking, drug use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Healthy habits can also help manage diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other chronic conditions.
  • Social engagement: Social activities may “reduce the risk of dementia due to mental and intellectual stimulation.” Take time to see loved ones and engage in leisurely activities with them.
  • Art and music therapy: Art and music therapy can elicit emotions, memories, and a sense of calm—all of which may “reduce cognitive decline” and enhance the quality of life.
  • Pet therapy: The link between individuals and animals holds powerful benefits like increased self-esteem and can “[improve] cognitive performance such as memory or concentration, motor skills and quality of life.”
  • Reminiscence therapy: By using all senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound), reminiscence therapy encourages people to remember specific events, individuals, and places. This therapy can help people gain confidence in their cognitive abilities and allows them to reflect upon what holds meaning for them.


The Bottom Line

If dementia is at the root of your or a loved one’s symptoms, the best step you can take is to act quickly. 

Groundbreaking research is bringing scientists one step closer to minimizing age-related cognitive decline, especially related to the early stages of dementia. In a test group, patients in this landmark study experienced improved cognitive functions, including memory recall, concentration, and response times.

A health plan based on this unique protocol is now available at Aviv Clinics Florida.

Contact us to learn more about this study and the Aviv Medical Program’s approach to cognitive decline.

Aviv Medical Program provides you with a unique opportunity to invest in your health while you age

Skip to content