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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Symptoms

Symptoms of dementia emerge slowly, get worse over time and limit the person's ability to function.

The first symptom of dementia is memory loss. Everyone has memory lapses from time to time. However, the memory loss of dementia is greater and affects your ability to function. For example, forgetting where you put your car key is normal. Forgetting how to use the key is a possible symptom of dementia.

Often, someone with dementia recognizes that something is wrong, but is afraid to contact a doctor to find out. As the disease worsens, the person may become nervous, depressed or anxious about the symptoms.

Along with memory loss, a person with dementia may have trouble with complex mental tasks. They may have difficulty balancing a checkbook, driving, knowing what day it is and learning new things. They may be inattentive, and display poor judgment. Their mood and behavior also may change. As the disorder progresses, the person may have difficulty speaking in full sentences. They may not recognize their surroundings, or other people. They may have problems with personal care, such as bathing. In some cases, a person with dementia may see or hear things that are not (hallucinations and delusions). They may get very agitated, may withdraw from other people.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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