We all have routine tasks that we don’t even have to think about doing. Cleaning, cooking, paying the bills — we’ve done them so often that they become automatic. There’s no need for reminders. But if you’ve found yourself missing these tasks, especially when it comes to paying the bills, it might be an early sign of dementia.
When you think of dementia, you might picture it as a specific disease like Alzheimer’s, but the term really encompasses a series of symptoms that indicate problems with important brain functions. There are dozens of types of dementia, and all of them manifest from a breakdown in brain cells.
That’s why dementia is so hard to detect and diagnose. Maybe you have one or two signs — like light memory loss and some behavioral changes — but without a clear guideline, it’s hard to know for sure if you’re developing dementia. One thing we can all do to detect dementia early is to pay attention to small telltale behaviors that could help root it out early.
This is important, since there’s currently no cure for dementia. Early treatment, however, could slow its progression.
What is an early sign of dementia in a person?
While you might be trained to look for obvious signs of memory loss, like forgetting a name or your phone number, more subtle signs of dementia aren’t as easy to notice. In fact, a recent study found that one of the earliest signs of dementia could be as simple as missing a credit card payment.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at how dementia impacted financial status. Researchers reviewed data from over 80,000 Medicare beneficiaries in single-person households to see if they could find any commonalities in their later diagnosis of dementia.
Overall, scientists found a link between people being diagnosed with dementia and a likelihood of missing credit card payments — which was also linked with lower credit scores. On average, people who were later diagnosed with dementia had been more likely to miss credit card payments as early as six years before diagnosis. Those same people also had lower credit scores, starting at least two and a half years before diagnosis.
The explanation can be as simple as a routine task just slipping your mind. Maybe it’s not a big deal if it happens once or twice (hey, we’re all busy!). But if you’ve noticed you’ve had a hard time remembering to pay your credit card bill on a consistent basis, it might be time to consult your doctor to see if you’re showing any other signs of dementia.
What are other signs of dementia?
If you think the above example applies to you, there might be other easy-to-miss signs you haven’t noticed. One of them is called “sundowning,” which is a phenomenon that some older adults experience in the evening.
Sundowning usually affects patients with dementia in the later hours of the day, and can manifest in a number of different ways. These include feeling confused or disoriented, aggressive, or even anxious in the early evening. Others might experience a tendency to wander, or the need to pace unexpectedly.
If you’ve noticed any of these signs in your behavior, or if you’ve been missing important tasks like paying your credit bill, it’s time to contact your doctor. It could be nothing, but it could also be an early sign of dementia. And while no one wants to find out they’re on track to develop dementia, early detection is important, and could even be lifesaving down the road.