Brain doctor on five lesser-known dementia signs and symptoms

Asian senior retired couple holding hands and take care together at home, Alzheimer disease or suffering with dementia concept
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Experts have revealed that the earliest signs of dementia can be 'surprising' and often more subtle than you might think. Research has shown that the condition can present symptoms that aren't always easy to spot, such as failing to realise when someone is being sarcastic or not picking up on other social cues.

Katherine Rankin, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the University of California in San Francisco Memory and Aging Center, warns that any change in a person's usual behaviour or abilities could be cause for concern. If you or a loved one are experiencing these signs or symptoms, it may be worth scheduling a visit to the doctor.

Dr Rankin emphasises that these are not "signs of dementia unless they are a change from someone's previous behaviour."

Struggling with sarcasm and detecting lies

According to Rankin, people with dementia tend to struggle with understanding sarcasm. She also found that they often couldn't tell when someone was lying, although this wasn't the case for people with Alzheimer's disease.

Falling more frequently

Frequent falls could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer's disease, researchers suggest. A study published in October 2021 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience discovered that older people who later develop Alzheimer's disease are more likely to fall in the years leading up to their diagnosis compared to those who don't have the condition, The Mirror reports.

Everyday Health has highlighted a concerning issue: "People will come into our office concerned because they forgot what was on their grocery list last week, but when their spouse says they've fallen four times in the past year, that's a sign of a problem," explained Rankin. Frequent falls could be indicative of other brain disorders as well.

Disregarding the law and social norms

Dementia can lead to a loss of social norms, resulting in behaviours such as shoplifting or even breaking into homes. The journal Cortex notes that individuals with dementia may also engage in inappropriate relationship behaviour, make sexual comments, perform unsuitable actions, or even commit criminal acts.

Such actions can result in legal issues and are particularly alarming when they occur in people in their thirties and forties, where such out-of-character behaviour could signal dementia.

Rankin pointed out: "Obviously, the majority of people engaging in those behaviours don't have dementia. It's only when a previously law-abiding citizen starts to steal or do other things that are out of character that it becomes a concern for dementia."

Staring with a 'reduced gaze'

Another symptom is known as 'reduced gaze', a clinical term used when someone with dementia does not move their eyes normally. This can manifest as staring, difficulties in reading, or skipping lines while reading.

While the person with dementia might not notice these changes, they are often apparent to others.

Eating objects and rancid food

The act of eating non-food objects or out-of-date foods could surprisingly be a symptom of dementia. As explained by Rankin, an individual with dementia may attempt to eat a flower from a restaurant table because they "know they are there to eat but don't know what the flower is doing there," leaving few other explanations for this behaviour.