Dementia: spotting the signs

Jun 11, 2019

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe several progressive conditions that affect the brain – including Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal and dementia with Lewy bodies.

What are the signs of dementia?

Dementia is not a single illness. It is a group of symptoms that occur as a result of damage to the brain. As a result the symptoms someone exhibits can vary depending on the type of dementia that they have. If you're concerned about dementia, here are some of the main signs you should look out for:

Memory problems

We all forget a name or a face once in a while, but being frequently forgetful is one of the most common signs of dementia, particularly when someone struggles to retain new information. Other memory problems may include:

  • Forgetting recent events
  • Getting lost in previously familiar places
  • Misplacing or losing things regularly
  • Asking someone to repeat things over and over


Whether spoken or written, communication can pose difficulties for those with dementia. People with dementia can often:

  • Repeat themselves or struggle finding the right words
  • Experience difficulties having or joining in a conversation
  • Forget what they're saying in the middle of a sentence

Losing interest in socialising can also be a sign of dementia, and someone who is usually outgoing may become withdrawn and no longer want to see people socially. Other aspects of this type of behaviour may include:

Losing interest in hobbies or sportsStaying away from work events

Cognitive abilities

Time and place

People with dementia may have problems with time and place. They may start to confuse night and day, for example, getting up during the middle of the night thinking that it's morning. They may also start to lose track of the time of year and the seasons.


People with dementia might have problems concentrating, including taking longer than usual to process information. Some people may also frequently feel restless and be unable to sit still for very long.

Problematic judgement

Dementia can cause problems with reasoning and the ability to make decisions, including dealing with financial matters. Forgetting to pay bills is one example, while others include spending large amounts of money on a whim or being easily persuaded to buy things that aren't needed or giving money away.

Going shopping and paying

Some people with dementia may struggle to work with numbers or keep track of things that involve numbers. They may also find it hard to follow instructions – cooking from a recipe for example.

Mood and personality

Personality and behaviour changes can also be a sign of dementia, as can mood swings and depression. Things to look out for include:

  • Becoming aggressive, irritable, short-tempered or easily upset
  • Becoming obsessive (this can include overeating or drinking too much)
  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Feelings of fear or anxiety
  • Becoming increasingly suspicious

Getting a dementia diagnosis

If someone you know or love is showing one or more of these signs it doesn't necessarily mean that they have dementia. But if these changes have been happening for a while and are getting worse, it is advisable for them to see a GP. There are also lots of other things that could be causing these symptoms, which a GP would be able to diagnose and treat if necessary.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.