9 Surprising Early Signs of Dementia That Have Nothing to Do with Memory

9 Surprising Early Signs of Dementia That Have Nothing to Do with Memory

Blanking out on people’s names, forgetting appointments, having problems with short-term memory—these are classic memory symptoms of early dementia. But memory problems aren’t the only signs of dementia. In fact, there are many other behavioral changes that don’t have anything to do with memory that can be an indicator you’re heading for Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.


Memory problems aren’t the only signs of dementia. Click To Tweet

The neuropsychiatrists at Amen Clinics, the global leader in brain health, have worked with thousands of people who don’t realize their changing behaviors could be warning signs of dementia. For example, a highly successful businessman who had always played by the rules reached out for help after his once-wonderful life started falling apart. In his 50s he suddenly began gambling heavily, having extramarital affairs, and engaging in illegal activities at work. With his gambling and bad investments, he lost millions of dollars, nearly lost his wife of 30-plus years, and got arrested for insider trading. He didn’t know why he was acting so out of character but couldn’t stop himself.

At Amen Clinics, his brain SPECT imaging studies showed decreased blood flow and low activity in his frontal lobes and temporal lobes, a pattern commonly seen in a type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Even though the man didn’t have any problems with forgetfulness, his brain scans helped him understand what was causing his behavior changes, and he got started on a memory rescue program before forgetfulness emerged.

Treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is more effective when it is started early. That’s why you need to be aware of possible indicators of this dreaded disease.

Here are 9 early warning signs of dementia you should investigate.

1. Breaking the law.

Law-abiding citizens who suddenly begin stealing, trespassing, or driving recklessly may be exhibiting early signs of dementia, in particular FTD. A 2015 study in JAMA Neurology found that in 14% of people with FTD, breaking laws was the first sign of dementia.

2. Eating weird stuff.

Changes in appetite and the foods you crave are an early warning sign of dementia, according to a 2015 Japanese study in Plos One. Some people with dementia will eat food that is rancid or spoiled or may eat non-food objects, such as flowers. These odd changes may be due to the fact that dementia attacks parts of the brain that regulate appetite and taste buds. A letter to the editor published in a 2011 issue of Journal of the American Geriatrics Society describes a disturbing case of an 83-year-old woman with mild to moderate dementia eating her own feces.

3. Falling more frequently.

Do you find yourself tripping or falling more often? Be aware that a 2013 brain imaging study in the journal Neurology that involved 125 older adults found that those who fell most frequently were more likely to have the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the study, falls as well as changes in gait may precede any cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Other findings in JAMA Neurology found that poor physical performance in a variety of areas—walking, going from sitting to standing, balancing while standing, and grip strength—increases the risk of dementia in people over 90 years of age. As dementia progresses, fine motor skills begin to decline and mobility problems increase, making falls even more common.

4. Gum disease.

The human mouth plays host to an estimated 700 different species of bacteria. The bacteria that lead to gum disease are also linked to the development of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2020 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. A growing body of research, including findings in the Journal of Periodontology, has shown that periodontal (gum) disease is a risk factor for dementia. Gum disease is associated with inflammation, which has been linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day after meals and floss daily: Flossing your teeth is a brain health and memory exercise! And see a dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.

5. Inability to pick up on sarcasm.

If sarcastic remarks are going over your head, it may be related to dementia, according to 2009 brain imaging research from the University of California, San Francisco. This study shows that the ability to discern sarcasm and other ironic speech in face-to-face encounters is diminished in people with Alzheimer’s or FTD.

6. Engaging in compulsive behaviors.

An unexpected sign of early dementia in some people is a tendency to develop new compulsive behaviors or rituals. For example, becoming a hoarder later in life may signal trouble. Research from UCLA that looked at patients with FTD or Alzheimer’s disease found that 38% of those with FTD and 10% of those with Alzheimer’s exhibited compulsive behaviors. More recent findings in The Journal of Neuropsychiatry suggest that in people with early FTD, these behaviors are more likely impulse-driven due to harmful changes in the frontal lobes, which are heavily involved in impulse control.

7. Your sense of smell is off.

Are you unable to distinguish scents like cinnamon, baby powder, or gasoline? This could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. According to a 2018 study in Biosensors, having trouble with sense of smell (called anosmia) is one of the earliest preclinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Other research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has found that the brains of people with olfactory dysfunction often have the same harmful changes as those seen in Alzheimer’s patients. There is evidence, including a 2016 study from Aristotle University in Greece, that repeated exposure to certain odors can improve the ability to smell. Some suggested scents from essential oils include rose, lemon, cloves, and eucalyptus.

8. Having depression.

Depression doubles the risk of cognitive impairment in women and quadruples it in men. Research in the Archives of General Psychiatry evaluated 5,781 elderly women with tests of mood and memory. Women with 3-5 depressive symptoms were at 60% greater odds for cognitive deterioration, and women with 6 or more depressive symptoms were 230% more likely to have problems! The researchers concluded that depression in older women is associated with both poor cognitive function and subsequent cognitive decline. Research in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that late-life depression may, in fact, be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. It is critical to get depression treated in order to keep your mind.

Late-life depression may be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. Click To Tweet

9. Having ADHD or other untreated mental health problems.

A 2019 study in the Journal of Attention Disorders shows that adults with ADHD are over 3 times more likely to develop dementia compared with those who don’t have ADHD, which affects about 4.4% of American adults. Multiple studies have shown that other untreated mental health disorders significantly increase the risk of memory problems. Research shows increased dementia risk with:

Treating mental health disorders can help save your memory.

Adults with ADHD are over 3 times more likely to develop dementia compared with those who don’t have ADHD. Click To Tweet

Depression, ADD/ADHD, memory loss, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. You might want to mention a loss of hearing cause of dementia also

    Comment by dARLENE — August 31, 2020 @ 3:22 AM

  2. Excellent article

    Comment by Dr Yelena Kipervas — August 31, 2020 @ 5:12 AM

  3. This is an important list and one I have not seen before all in one place.

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — August 31, 2020 @ 5:18 AM

  4. My mother is having some significant short term memory loss. What does it cost for an initial evaluation?
    I think she has Medicate Plan B or C…Can you please help?

    I also need to have testing from an early childhood injury , and now more recently difficult reactive behaviors (more anger, sometimes impulsive rage….trying to figure out if it’s ‘me’ or brought on my external narcissist abuse).

    My motheris in NE Florida, I am in Kansas…but could try to make appointments at the Georgia facility…

    Thank you,

    Comment by Margit CK Hall — August 31, 2020 @ 6:29 AM

  5. How much of the evaluation and treatment is covered by insurance. Can the treatment be handled remotely during this time of Covid?

    Comment by Debi Burdick — August 31, 2020 @ 6:31 AM

  6. The first item jumped out at me. Breaking the law. I ran a red light knowing the police car was behind me. But I think I did it because I wanted attention from someone, anyone. I am so alone and on one seems to know that I exist.

    Comment by Jane — August 31, 2020 @ 6:54 AM

  7. The so called clinic is in it for money. Much of what you say may be news or observable….but obviously with the intention of keeping the body and soul of the individual dependent on your system.
    A True Professional liberates the Individual from dependency. EC

    Comment by Eleanore Carson — August 31, 2020 @ 8:54 AM

  8. As I read this list, I wonder how many of these symptoms you need to have for them to be seen as contributions to dementia. For example, I’ve always had ADD & ADHA, it runs in the family. I’ve batteled depression for as long as I can remember (but it becomes worse with sugar or chocolate), and I’ve always been clumsy so I trip, but not fall, often. I’ve struggled with retention (it’s one aspect of ADD) especially if it doesn’t seem important, or if I’m tired, or had sugar. But my memory appears to be getting worse and that frightens me. We have Kaiser so this would not be covered. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Kathleen — August 31, 2020 @ 9:19 AM

  9. All this research is fascinating and yet… Doesn’t necessarily mean a person with these symptoms HAS OR WILL GET DEMENTIA OR ALZHEIMER’S. I am 41yrs old and have experienced LOTS of these symptoms, myself (from varieties of trauma) Sometimes labels and diagnoses can be helpful otherwise harmful. Also fear-based propaganda/advertising is LAME! I get Amen clinics and health staffs mission is to help or assist people to heal their brains and body but it doesn’t help that it’s so damn expensive IMO:(
    The US needs to transform the ways it does healthcare in this country and it shouldn’t be tied to jobs, insurance, and capitalism. My rant for the day. Best of luck to those suffering, healing on their own, and those who support us! Take care, ALH

    Comment by Andrea Hanson — August 31, 2020 @ 11:41 AM

  10. I know that Amen professionals are also looking at these high risk behaviors as also similar to individual trauma and disorientation for COVID crisis, which adversely affects individuals, families, communities and globally. You can add weird dreams to the list! A Harvard researcher stated recently that people are experiencing strange dreams during COVID. Isolation, confusion, disorientation, depression, fatigue during trauma and crises can also cause people to experience quasi-Alzheimer’s symptoms, although these may be temporary. Your thoughts:

    Comment by Rev. Maureen White, EdD, SHRM-SCP — August 31, 2020 @ 12:23 PM

  11. Thank you Dr Amen for all the great information that you provide on the Brain you have bless so many people are giving people information about the brain you give people a choice to change their brains and change their lives they have been people all around the world I have been touch about the information that you’ve given us over many years I know as a counsellor that you have change my life and the lives of all those people that I come in contact with because of the information that I’ve learnt from you I will be forever grateful

    Comment by Joanie sanderson — August 31, 2020 @ 12:50 PM

  12. The Amen clinic has helped 3 people in my family including me. It’s a tool to help if you can afford it and need more answers. It’s not just a brain scan. We did blood work, detailed interview, ext. We got help and lots of answers. Not all answers but enough it was worth it’s weight in gold.

    Comment by janine — August 31, 2020 @ 4:43 PM

  13. Was wondering if a baby from amother who had german measles in the last trimester of pregnancy Is there any effects from that in the child.

    Comment by lois j Jewell — August 31, 2020 @ 5:46 PM

  14. How and where can we see the answers to these questions? I have many of them.

    Comment by Kimberly Kross — August 31, 2020 @ 7:28 PM

  15. Please recomend where I can get an evaluation for memory problems.

    Comment by Delphine Morton — September 1, 2020 @ 3:46 AM

  16. Hello Delphine, thank you for reaching out. Our Clinics are able to assist you with an evaluation for memory issues (https://amenclinics.com/services/memory-rescue-program/). We’d be happy to reach out to you with additional information. Our Care Coordinators can also be reached with our contact information here: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 1, 2020 @ 8:08 AM

  17. Hello Kimberly, thank you for reaching out. Our Clinics are able to assist you with an evaluation for memory issues (https://amenclinics.com/services/memory-rescue-program/). Our Care Coordinators can be reached here: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 1, 2020 @ 8:09 AM

  18. Hello Kathleen, thank you for reaching out. Our Care Coordinators can assist you with additional information about our Memory Rescue Program (https://amenclinics.com/services/memory-rescue-program/) as well as information about our consultations and evaluations, including cost, insurance, reimbursement, and financing options. Here is our contact information: https://amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 1, 2020 @ 8:11 AM

  19. Hello Debi, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider. We’d be happy to contact you directly with information on pricing, insurance, reimbursement, and financing options. During this time of COVID-19, we are scanning patients in our clinics and performing other aspects of the evaluation process via telehealth methods. Here is more information: https://amenclinics.com/covid-19-safety-practices-and-procedures/. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 1, 2020 @ 8:14 AM

  20. Hello Margit, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics is an out-of-network provider. We’d be happy to contact you directly with information on pricing, insurance, reimbursement, and financing options. We do have 8 clinic locations (https://amenclinics.com/locations/) and would be happy to provide information for our location in Atlanta, GA. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — September 1, 2020 @ 8:16 AM

  21. I know SPECT imaging very well, and what it can do for you. I worked with CERETEC in the 90’s
    on a project with Brown Medical School.
    I am 71, caregiver for a spouse 20 yrs my senior. My Mother is in a nursing home with dementia, she
    no longer knows me. I have had unspeakable trauma as a child, a near fatal auto accident in my 30’s with head trauma.
    I have had ADD all my life. No problems with behavior, food, relationships. But forget names, forget to put things away.
    I am a musician, play flute, a highly technical instrument. I quite honestly am terrified. When our my father died, my mother shut down, and drifted away. Isolation is deadly. Having done so many brain scans (64X64 Butterworth filter) I’m scared to death.

    Comment by Stephanie Wheeler, CNMT, BD(ARRT) retired — September 2, 2020 @ 2:38 PM

  22. What caught my attention is when you said that one that has dementia can expect their fine motor skills to decline. This reminded me of my best friend’s 62-year-old mother. Apart from frequent fall accidents, her memory problem seems to have been progressing rapidly. I will ask my best friend to have her mother treated by a reliable professional.

    Comment by Shammy Peterson — June 9, 2022 @ 6:13 AM

  23. It never would have occurred to me that new compulsive behaviors can be a sign of early dementia. I would imagine that some compulsive behaviors can put a loved one in danger. If your loved one is showing early signs of dementia, it could be a good idea to have them live in an assisted living center so that they can't hurt themselves. https://www.laurelnola.com/services

    Comment by Thomas Clarence — November 17, 2023 @ 9:40 AM

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