Checklists to Compare Early Signs & Symptoms of Different Dementias

Last Updated: July 19, 2023


Early Signs of Dementia Checklists

Dementia affects each person differently through the severity of symptoms and progression of the disease. There are early signs to look for that are unique to the four most common types of dementia. By knowing what to look for, your loved one can best be supported and improve their quality of life through an early diagnosis. The most common early warning signs are:


Early Signs of Dementia Checklists
Type of Dementia Symptom / Sign Description
Alzheimer’s Disease Increased forgetfulness Memory loss is one of the biggest characteristics of dementia. Examples are not remembering recent conversations, names of people one has just met, dates, repeatedly asking the same thing, or where something was placed.


Confusion and disorientation Time can evolve differently and patients with dementia can have a hard time trying to understand what is not currently happening. Examples can be that your loved one is confused by trying to explain when or where something is that has already happened or will happen in the future.


Challenges in planning / problem solving Examples can be trouble trying to follow a recipe because of easily getting confused by the numbers or having a hard time balancing a household budget and paying monthly bills.


Difficulty with communication Finding the right word and making a sentence become hard causing your loved one to withdraw. Examples are not wanting to participate in different social events or hobbies.


Vascular Dementia Mentally slowing down Your loved one is not as quick to understand, learn and think in comparison to the speed they were able to accomplish things before. Examples can be seen in problem-solving or doing more than one thing at a time.
Communication problems Speaking and understanding can become difficult. Examples are not being able to think of the correct word or sentence to say or being able to clearly pronounce words.


Losing focus Examples can be tasks becoming impossible when doing more than one thing at once or completing something that is a series of steps.


Personality, judgment, and behavior changes Examples can be your loved one becoming easily depressed, anxious, or choosing to do something that they usually would not do.


Frontotemporal Dementia


Personality changes This is one of the most common first symptoms to observe. Examples can be stopping participating in hobbies or activities that they once did and becoming introverted and withdrawn.


Behavior changes Things that were not normal before for your loved one begin to happen with more frequent occurrences. Examples can be developing obsessive habits like severely overeating or saying the same thing again and again.
Communication problems Another typical characteristic of the disease is that patients have a hard time with language. Examples can be losing the word they were going to say during a conversation or understanding what is being said.
Lewy Body Dementia Delusions This can cause your loved one to believe something to be true that is not and go in and out of reality. Examples can be demonstrated with patients having visual hallucinations.
Lucidity This causes patients to lose touch with reality and not be in the present. Examples can be seen with a patient’s togetherness or attention span which can vary greatly during the day.
Continuous problems with sleep Patients can have problems acting out what they were dreaming. Examples can be seen with your loved one sleepwalking, talking while they are dreaming, insomnia, or extreme fatigue from not getting enough hours of rest.


Difference Between Dementia and Normal Aging

As your loved one ages normally, there can be changes in health, mood, personality, memory, and bodily functions. With these changes, one might question if there is a more significant medical problem and start to ask what the difference is between dementia and the normal aging process. The answer can be complicated because they both affect cognitive function in the brain. Mental processes (ranging from decision-making, organization, and memory) to bodily functions all change and typically slow down. There are noticeable differences between the normal aging process and dementia. Some things to look for are:
Normal Aging vs. Signs of Dementia
Symptom Normal Aging Process Signs of Dementia
Memory Loss It is estimated that about 40% of people will suffer from memory loss as they age and it is not caused by dementia. It can be normal to have moments of forgetfulness that can be remembered later. One of the most prominent characteristics of dementia. It is normal for dementia patients to have more severe memory loss that does not get better. Dementia typically affects short-term memory the strongest.
Cognitive Function It is normal for these processes to slow down during aging and it takes your loved one longer to juggle multiple activities at once. These symptoms are a sign of dementia when the “slowing down” affects being able to live independently and manage everyday life from bathing, getting dressed, meal prep, paying bills, medication management, and light housework.
Communicating During the aging process, it can be normal to momentarily forget a word or a phrase. Usually, these are remembered later and do not affect a person’s ability to communicate. Dementia patients have a problem communicating. Both speaking and understanding become difficult as the disease progresses through its stages. It is common for someone to have a hard time remembering a word or phrase and understanding and engaging in conversations.
Problem-solving Problem-solving can become more difficult and slow down as people age. Studies have proven that older individuals use the information they have learned to make decisions instead of learning something new. A normal example is that a decision might take longer to decide but does not affect daily life. Dementia patients can have a hard time doing more than one thing at once. As their brain is more affected by the disease, everyday life can be challenging. Solving problems can lead to confusion, anger, anxiety, and poor judgment.
Behavior and Personality During the aging process, it is not considered normal for someone’s personality to change or have erratic periods in their behavior. Dementia patients experience both personality and behavior changes. It is normal for your loved one to form an aggressive personality when they were sweet before their diagnosis. Additionally, patients can decide that something is appropriate that is not part of their previous behavior or a cultural norm.
Ability to Complete Activities of Daily Living As a person ages, the normal changes that take place in the brain and body do not affect if someone can safely live independently. Even though there might be noticeable changes they can still responsibly take their medication, get to medical appointments, clean their house and buy and cook food. In people with dementia, activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living are affected. That means that basic hygiene becomes difficult and suffers, one has a hard time preparing meals and grocery shopping, housework, and light maintenance become too hard.

Cognitive Tests for Early Stage Dementia

If you believe your loved one is suffering from dementia because they are showing symptoms, seek the help of a medical professional. They do a physical evaluation, take a patient’s medical history, and perform both invasive and non-invasive tests to make a diagnosis. Before going to the doctor, it can always be good to double-check your intuition with medical facts. Some of the non-invasive question-and-answer style tests are available to do at home. While this does not take the place of a doctor’s diagnosis, it can be a starting point if your loved one is experiencing changes in their brain. It is important to test and get medical help if one thinks there are signs of dementia. Click here for more information about question-and-answer style testing that is available to do at home or in a doctor’s office for dementia and Alzheimer’s. The at-home tests are:

Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) – This is the most common test that is in the question-and-answer format. It is made up of 11 questions that check brain function. Questions are asked in regard to short-term memory, ability to pay attention, simple math calculations, language skills, and how the world around them is understood.

Clock Drawing Test – This is another staple for dementia testing. Through this relatively simple task, many mental processes have to be used. Patients draw a clock (including its hands) and depending upon how correctly it is drawn, scores are given that demonstrate if someone has dementia.

Self-Administered Geriatric Exam (SAGE) – The most popular online test was developed at Ohio State University. This tests how well your loved one is thinking and their cognitive ability. This is a 15-minute test that asks questions about being able to complete simple math equations, list a series of items, and draw a clock.

Mini-Cog – Very similar to the SAGE exam but this test needs someone to help administer it. This takes about 5 minutes to complete and looks at how well the brain is functioning. The test asks to list and remember a list of 3 things and complete a clock drawing test.

Modified Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) – This modified version of the CDR test (normally given by a medical professional) asks 6 questions to caregivers or a close family member. This 3-minute test questions your loved one’s brain function and ability to make healthy decisions for independent living.