Anyone over the age of 50 knows what it’s like to forget where you put your keys, or walk into a room and not remember why you’re there.
Usually, you can laugh it off as a “senior moment.” But if you’re like most people, even as you’re laughing it off, there’s still a little worry in the back of your mind.
Is it really just a senior moment, or is it something worse?
Dementia or brain burp? Here’s how to tell
The good news is if you’re asking the question, chances are you don’t need to worry. But if you are still concerned that your senior moments (or those of a loved one) are something more serious, keep reading.
Following are six surprising signs of early dementia to watch for.
1. Changes in the way you walk:
Walking and talking at the same time may seem effortless. But doing both at once is actually a skill we learn as infants.
If you find yourself struggling to carry on a conversation while you maintain your pace, it could be a sign of dementia.
Also, be on the lookout for changes in your pace. If you’ve slowed down, or your walking has become awkward or erratic, these could be early warning signs of dementia too.
2. Frequent falls:
Dementia doesn’t just affect how you walk. It can also cause changes to your balance.
A study which tracked older adults for eight months found that the folks who fell the most often were the ones most like to get a diagnosis of early onset dementia.
If you’ve taken a few tumbles don’t panic. Talk with your doctor about what could be behind yours. Balance issues can also simply be a part of aging. (If yours are, these 4 moves for better balance may be able to help.)
3. Getting lost:
Our ability to navigate and know where we are comes from a part of the brain that’s often affected in early dementia.
Forgetting why you walked into a room is one thing. Forgetting where you are when you walk into that same room is another.
Finding yourself lost in familiar surroundings can be a red flag for dementia. For example suddenly being unable to find your way home from the grocery store. Or being unable to navigate your own neighborhood. If this has happened to you it’s time to call the doctor.
4. Changes in eating habits:
A study out of Japan found that patients with early onset dementia often had unexpected changes to their taste buds. Some folks simply craved foods they’d never wanted, or had much interest in, before.
For many people, it was an insatiable desire for sweets. But for some the changes were far more drastic. Some folks were even no longer able to tell the difference between fresh and rotten food.
Researchers found that dementia has an impact on the parts of the brain which signal taste, and trigger cravings, early on. Do you find yourself craving sweet or strong tasting foods? Or wanting to eat the same foods repeatedly? Both can be signals of early dementia.
5. Eating inedible things:
Have you spotted a loved one sneaking bites of non-food items such as paper? Or have you found yourself eating something that you know isn’t meant to be eaten? This symptom, known as pica, can show up in the early stages of dementia.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why dementia patients develop this habit. Experts theorize the metabolic changes that come with the disease can trigger intense feelings of hunger. But the brain is unable to interpret the hunger pangs properly.
6. Stealing or breaking laws:
Have you been a law abiding citizen all your life, but suddenly find yourself taking something from a friend’s house? Or has your dad, who was the one who taught you how to be a safe driver, now racking up traffic tickets out of the blue?
It turns out, petty criminal acts such as shoplifting, traffic violations or trespassing can be signs of early dementia. In fact, according to research published in JAMA Neurology, this kind of personality change is the first sign of dementia in as many as 14 percent of cases.
Senior moments can be amusing, but they can also be a bit scary. Chances are yours are just normal blips on the aging radar. But be sure to talk to your doctor if any of these surprising signs of early dementia sound familiar.