These Early Dementia Symptoms Are Easy to Miss — Here’s What to Watch Out For

Most people think of Alzheimer’s disease when they hear the word “dementia.” But Alzheimer’s describes only one specific subset of symptoms.

There are many other types of dementia associated with aging and other risk factors — and the early signs and symptoms aren’t always the same. Certain types, such as vascular dementia, are characterized by symptoms so subtle they’re often difficult to detect.

Knowing what to watch out for, learning how to cope, and recognizing healthy aging can all improve the quality of someone’s life.

Unlike other types of dementia, vascular dementia is often associated with conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity — not just age. It develops due to the damage of blood vessels in the brain, which is why there are so many risk factors.

But before you can take steps to decrease your risk, it’s important to know what it looks like.

Early warning signs of vascular dementia

Elderly woman alone

Elderly woman alone | DimaBerkut/iStock/Getty Images

According to Mayo Clinic, some subtle yet all-too-common symptoms of vascular dementia might include:

  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating.

These aren’t clear warning signs like there might be for other conditions. It’s common to experience chest pain to signal a heart attack or numbness to signal a TIA or stroke. In fact, some of them just seem like normal things that happen as you age — right?

Not exactly.

What healthy aging really looks like

Forgot where you left your keys? You’re just getting old. Can’t remember talking to your friend on the phone yesterday? It’s because you’re getting old. Or not.

We’re all forgetful sometimes, but only to a certain extent. Persistent memory problems, confusion, and even depression aren’t normal parts of the aging process as you might think.

To be clear, a slow decline in the efficiency of your memory is to be expected. It sometimes takes older adults longer to learn new things or remember certain words or phrases.

But this happens slowly and even more subtly than it does when dementia is present. The condition also impacts your ability to solve problems and maintain new memories.

How to decrease your vascular dementia risk

An elderly couple looking at the paper work

An elderly couple looking at the paper work | JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes all types of dementia, so it’s hard to speculate what can and can’t decrease your risk of developing it. But because vascular dementia is associated with certain preventable diseases, there might be a few things you can do to keep your brain and body in shape in the long-term.

  • Keep your mind active. Try these mental exercises to exercise your brain.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. This decreases your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and other common risk factors.
  • Stay in touch with friends and family. You’re more likely to experience cognitive decline and other conditions if you isolate yourself from others, whether you do so deliberately or not.

Dementia impacts millions of Americans every year. Once you have it, there is no cure — yet. But the more you do to take care of yourself now, the greater chance you have of living a long, healthy, dementia-free life. There are no guarantees, but there is hope.

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