Do People with Dementia Know They Have Dementia?

Dementia is a devastating, degenerative brain disorder that completely changes the lives of those who have it — as well as their loved ones. As the disease progresses, people with dementia find it more difficult to live in the present, often having trouble following conversations or realizing where they are.

Do people living with dementia know they have it? Are they aware that something is wrong? That might depend on the stage of the condition when a person is diagnosed.

Dementia statistics: How many people have dementia?

Dementia

Dementia | iStock.com/wildpixel

Alzeimer’s disease is only one type of dementia. There are many more types, and combined, it’s estimated that over 5 million Americans, or 1 in 3 older adults, have some form of dementia.

The World Health Organization estimates that 47 million people currently live with dementia around the world.

Do people with dementia know they have it?

According to a 2018 report from Johns Hopkins, many older adults living with dementia aren’t aware of their diagnosis. Many people living with dementia are also undiagnosed and aren’t aware their symptoms aren’t signs of normal mental aging.

Of the estimated 5.7 million people in the U.S. who have dementia, it’s likely that nearly half aren’t officially diagnosed.

Unfortunately, dementia often isn’t diagnosed until symptoms become noticeable — especially to other people, such as family members. At this point, the condition has progressed significantly. It’s possible that many people have been diagnosed with dementia, but aren’t aware they’ve been given the diagnosis.

However, the earlier dementia is diagnosed, the more likely a person will be aware enough to comprehend what’s going on. As the disease progresses, this may change.

Early warning signs of dementia

Elderly woman alone

Elderly woman alone | DimaBerkut/iStock/Getty Images

The earlier dementia is diagnosed, the better. There is no cure — yet. But early interventions can improve quality of life and allow individuals access to effective treatments — as well as the time to plan and prepare for the uncertain road ahead.

Early signs of dementia include:

  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Having trouble communicating
  • Difficulty with problem-solving
  • Difficulty with planning and organization.

Gradual mental decline is a normal part of aging. But persistent memory problems, mental health problems like depression, and confusion are not.

If you notice a family member struggling to remember things they’re unlikely to forget easily, it might be a good idea to go with them to their next doctor’s visit.

Can dementia be prevented?

There is no guaranteed way to completely guard yourself or your loved ones against dementia. No vaccine, medication, or healthy lifestyle habit can make you immune to abnormal mental decline. However, there’s a lot you can do to decrease your dementia risk.

Some suggested strategies include:

  • Engaging in physical activity at least 150 minutes each week
  • Following a healthy diet
  • Reducing or preventing high blood pressure
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • “Exercise” your brain
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress
  • Get enough sleep.

The earlier someone receives a dementia diagnosis, the more likely they are to be able to talk through that diagnosis with doctors and loved ones. Later stages of dementia may not allow a person enough awareness to realize what is happening to them — and it’s not always possible for caregivers to talk through this reality with loved ones going through it.

If you’re caring for someone living with dementia, it’s OK to ask for help and find support outside your home. Dementia affects not just individuals with the condition, but those around them, too. You don’t have to go through it alone.