Imagine spending $20,000 on a minivan and, the next morning, having no memory of making such a purchase. It wasn't fraud. It wasn't a computer error. You definitely bought the minivan. You just don't remember doing so.
That was the jarring experience of Maria Turner, as reported by the New York Times. "I made a joke out of it, but it really disturbed me," she told the paper. More packages soon started arriving. She didn't know why. Years later, she got the diagnosis: cognitive decline, with her brain showing "hallmarks of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease" and "evidence of Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia, which affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain."
"It's not uncommon at all for us to hear that one of the first signs that families become aware of is around a person's financial dealings," Beth Kallmyer, vice president for care and support at the Alzheimer's Association, tells the paper. Yes, an early sign of dementia can be financial expenditures you have no memory making.
The article was substantiated in an earlier study from two years back: "Previous studies show that people in the very early stages of Alzheimer's lose financial capacity; that is, their ability to manage their checkbook, to pay bills on time, to spend in ways that are consistent with the values they had in the past," explained the study's lead author, health economist Carole Roan Gresenz, Ph.D., interim dean for Georgetown University's School of Nursing&Health Studies. "What we found was that households in which someone is in the early stage of the disease are vulnerable to large reductions in liquid assets such as savings, money market, and checking accounts," she says.
Read on for some other early signs of dementia:
Problems With Short-Term Memory
If you "struggle to remember recent events, although you can easily recall things that happened in the past," that's an early signal of dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Society. Think of Maria Turner. She may have remembered something from her childhood but had no memory of buying that minivan.
Spending money on purchases you don't remember is one early sign of dementia, but so is not spending money—as in, completely forgetting about your monthly bills. These routine tent poles every week serve as markers those with total cognitive function should be able to remember.
Planning and Preparing Meals
We all find ourselves with a fridge full of rotten leftovers once in a while, or some spoiled spinach in the crisper drawer. But if you're shopping for meal prep and forget you even bought the groceries, or what meal you planned to make, shortly after, then it may be a sign of cognitive decline. Forgetting to eat is also a worrying sign.
Ghosting those you're supposed to meet isn't just rude; it can be a sign of dementia, if you don't even remember scheduling the appointments in the first place.
What to Do if You Notice Worrying Signs of Dementia
"Coming to terms with memory loss and the possible onset of dementia can be difficult. Some people try to hide memory problems, and some family members or friends compensate for a person's loss of memory, sometimes without being aware of how much they've adapted to the impairment," says the Mayo Clinic. "Getting a prompt diagnosis is important, even if it's challenging. Identifying a reversible cause of memory impairment enables you to get appropriate treatment. Also, an early diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder is beneficial." And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.