'Surprising' early symptoms of dementia including failure to pick up on sarcasm

Health experts have explained the early warning signs of dementia
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The earliest signs of dementia are less well known and can be quite 'surprising', according to experts.

Research shows the condition has some symptoms that are not always easy to identify and can be subtle. These include failing to realise if someone is being sarcastic and a person falling more frequently.

Katherine Rankin, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the University of California in San Francisco Memory and Aging Center says any change in a person’s usual behaviour or abilities can be a cause for concern, reports the Mirror. If you or a loved one have these symptoms, it’s worth a visit to the doctor. But Dr Rankin says it’s important to note they are not "signs of dementia unless they are a change from someone’s previous behaviour."

Sarcasm and spotting a liar

Dr Rankin says people with dementia tend to have a harder time picking up on sarcasm. She also discovered they could not tell when someone was lying, although people with Alzheimer's disease were able to.

Falling more frequently

Frequent falling could be an early signal of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers say. A study published in October 2021 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found older people who later develop Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to fall in the years before their diagnosis than those who don't have the condition.

Everyday Health reports Dr Rankin as saying: “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.” Regular falls could also be a symptom of other brain disorders.

Disregarding the law and social norms

Dementia can cause some people to lose their sense of social norms. They can get involved in shoplifting or even breaking into someone’s house. People with the condition can also display inappropriate behaviour in relationships or make sexual comments or carry out inappropriate actions or even get involved in criminal behaviour, according to the journal Cortex.

This can lead to law breaking and can even affect those in their thirties and forties when out-of-character behaviour would be considered a sign of dementia. Dr Rankin added: “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 ‘reduced gaze’

"Reduced gaze" is a clinical term for a dementia symptom that alters people’s ability to move their eyes normally. Those with early signs of dementia look like they’re staring. They also may have trouble reading and can skip lines. The person with dementia might not be aware of this but people around them will be.

Eating objects and rancid food

Eating non-food objects or out of date foods can also be a surprising symptom. Someone with dementia might try to eat a flower from restaurant table because Dr Rankin says they “know they are there to eat but don’t know what the flower is doing there.” Behaviour experts say there are few other explanations for doing this.

According to the NHS, different types of dementia can affect people differently, and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way. However, there are some common early symptoms that may appear some time before a diagnosis of dementia.

These include:

  • memory loss

  • difficulty concentrating

  • finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping

  • struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word

  • being confused about time and place

  • mood changes