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How to spot the early signs of dementia

Siski Green / 14 May 2015

Moments of forgetfulness are normal, and often aren't related to dementia. However, developing new cravings can be - and there are other signs that may surprise you.

Senior man sitting on a bench in the distance
Watch out for dramatic changes in social behaviour

Why new cravings could signal dementia

It’s natural to experience a loss of smell as you age. Foods tend to taste blander and you may find yourself unable to tell whether or not milk has gone off, for example. But research from the National Institutes of Health in the USA, suggests that changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, caused by dementia, also triggers an increase for unhealthy cravings such as for sugary or fatty foods, for example. These cravings often result in rapid weight gain too.

Find out more about how your senses change with age

Why odd new habits could be an early warning sign for dementia

Strange new habits such as always cutting up an apple for breakfast but never eating it can be a sign of a new compulsive behaviour and this in turn can indicate early onset dementia.

If you or someone you know is behaving unusually in this way, ask yourself why you or they are doing it. If there’s a good answer, ie I keep meaning to eat it but I just don’t seem to have the time, then it might not be a compulsive behaviour.

The key to compulsive behaviours, however, is that they can’t be stopped easily. So if the behaviour continues, it might be time to visit your GP for a check-up.

What dramatic changes in social behaviour could mean

A formerly polite and reserved person who becomes crass and rude to friends and family could be showing the early signs of brain changes caused by dementia. Many brain disorders affect moral and social behaviour, which is governed by the right side of the brain, making people say things they wouldn’t usually dream of uttering, or making them behave in socially unacceptable ways such as shouting, swearing or stealing things, or making inappropriate sexual advances. Dementia is one such disease and while not all dementia patients will overtly change their moral behaviour, it is a sign to look out for.

Being at a loss for words

Surprise birthday parties and extravagant gifts aside, if you’re regularly finding it difficult to find words to express yourself, you may be showing an early sign of dementia. This is particularly evident if you or the individual can’t find a way around the lack of that word – instead of finding a different way to say the same thing, they will continue to search for that one word that’s missing. Similarly, this lack of knowledge of a certain word can also make following a story difficult.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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