5 Surprising Signs Of Dementia

If you are caring for an older relative, you may be concerned from time to time by their short-term memory lapses. People of all ages occasionally lose their keys, or forget why they walked into a room, and these memory problems become more pronounced with age for all of us. How can you know when to be concerned? Here are five signs of dementia you may not be aware of that might give you some clues or reassurance. Of course, it’s always best to consult a doctor when you have concerns, but collecting information on these issues might help with the diagnosis. 

Uneven Walking Speed

Is your relative slowing down — literally? A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in 2003 found that older adults with Alzheimer’s disease walked slower and less evenly than those without disease. The greatest difference occurred when subjects with Alzheimer’s disease were given a second task to perform while walking;  their ability to regulate their speed was severely impaired when their attention was divided. If your loved one finds it impossible to maintain a steady walking gait while distracted, that is something you should mention to their doctor.

Criminal Behavior

Has your elderly friend developed sticky fingers? It’s a taboo subject that caregivers may not discuss among themselves, but criminal behaviors like shoplifting and exhibitionism are often early warning signs of dementia. A study published in JAMA Neurology found this to be especially true in a front-brain variation of Alzheimer’s called frontotemporal dementia (FTD). In their study, 14 percent of those suffering from FTD exhibited criminal behaviors as their first sign of illness. The disease attacks the brain structures responsible for judgment, sexual behavior, violence, and self-awareness, which accounts for anti-social behavior. 

Depression

Is your loved one showing signs of depression? Some very interesting research out of Boston University has found a strong link between depression and Alzheimer’s Disease. The correlation remains strong even if the depression pre-dates the onset of Alzheimer’s by many years, so depression is being looked at as a risk factor in addition to being a diagnostic indicator. The connection is strongest in people whose depressive symptoms first occurred wthin one year before the onset of AD, but even among those who had their first episode of depression more than 25 years earlier, researchers still found a modest association. 

Appetite Changes

Has your relative started craving sweets, or shown major changes in what she likes to eat? According to Alzheimers.net, caregivers are usually the first to notice the sudden changes in appetite that can accompany dementia. Appetite loss can lead to weight loss, but it’s just as common for the patient to crave sweets and start gaining weight. Taste buds naturally diminish with age, so it’s normal for older people to choose heavier foods or foods with intense flavors, but many researchers believe that Alzheimer’s is linked to type 2 diabetes, and some even consider Alzheimer’s to be a third type of diabetes. They’ve found that the brain, like the pancreas, produces insulin and this insulin production drops as Alzheimer’s progresses. Brain cell death caused by this loss of insulin production affects the brain, and is particularly pronounced in the parts of the brain responsible for memory. 

A Desire to Hoard

Are you finding stashes of newspaper or canned goods in odd locations around the house? Hoarding is a relatively harmless behavior, but one that can be very alarming to visiting family members, especially if their relative hasn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s yet. A 2012 study of Taiwanese elders with Alzheimer’s dementia found that patients’ past social and family background and current life situation are the biggest influences in hoarding behavior; for example, patients may be re-experiencing past economic crises or exhibiting old symptoms that had been under control. The researchers cite “a desire for security” as the underlying meaning of the behavior. 

These unusual  indicators may help you figure out what’s going on with a loved one, but the primary signs of dementia are still memory loss, difficulty performing simple tasks, and problems with language, time, and place. Be sure to read about the ten primary symptoms of Alzheimer’s in addition to these less typical ones.