Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

About Dementia

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms that signal the onset of dementia are usually subtle and may not be noticeable for a number of years. In fact, earlier signs usually are identified in retrospect, and often by someone other than the patient. Most people think of memory loss as the central symptom in dementia. While most dementias affect memory, some forms of dementia do not initially involve memory loss. Other areas that may be affected include language, perceptual skills, reasoning, and personality. This is especially true in individuals whose symptoms begin before age 65.

Ten Warning Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.

1. Memory Loss That Affects Job Skills 
It's normal to occasionally forget assignments, colleagues' names, or a business associate's telephone number and remember them later. Those with a dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, may forget things more often and not remember them later. 


2. Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks 
Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may leave the carrots on the stove and only remember to serve them at the end of the meal. People with Alzheimer's disease could prepare a meal and not only forget to serve it but also forget they made it. 


3. Problems with Language 
Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer's disease may forget simple words or substitute inappropriate words, making his or her sentence incomprehensible. 


4. Disorientation of Time and Place 
It's normal to forget the day of the week or your destination for a moment. But people with Alzheimer's disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing where they are, how they got there or how to get back home. 


5. Poor or Impaired Judgment 
People can become so immersed in an activity that they temporarily forget the child they're watching. People with Alzheimer's disease could forget entirely the child under their care. They also may dress inappropriately, wearing several shirts or blouses. 


6. Problems with Abstract Thinking 
Balancing a checkbook may be disconcerting when the task is more complicated than usual. Someone with Alzheimer's disease could forget completely what the numbers are and what needs to be done with them. 


7. Misplacing Things 
Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in inappropriate places: an iron in the freezer, or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl. 


8. Changes in Mood or Behavior 
Everyone becomes sad or moody occasionally. Someone with Alzheimer's disease can exhibit rapid mood swings (from calm to tears to anger) for no apparent reason. 


9. Changes in Personality 
People's personalities ordinarily change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer's disease can show drastic personality changes, becoming extremely confused, suspicious, or fearful. 


10. Loss of Initiative 
It's normal to tire of housework, business activities, or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. The person with Alzheimer's disease may become very passive and require cues and prompting to become involved.

[These warning signs were taken from publications of the National Alzheimer's Association.]

This page last updated Jun 18, 2012

Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center
320 E Superior, Searle 11
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-908-9339
Fax: 312-908-8789
Email Us

Contact Northwestern University |  Disclaimer |  Campus Emergency Information |  Policy Statements

Northwestern Home  |  Northwestern Calendar: Plan-It Purple  |  Northwestern Search