This article originally appeared on prevention.com
Not feeling like your usual, upbeat self? Your cloudy mood may be a sign a bigger storm is brewing. Depression appears to be one of the earliest symptoms of dementia—a symptom that settles in well ahead of any memory problems, shows a new Neurology study.
The study team asked about 2,400 healthy adults (all over age 50) to answer questions about their mental and physical health. After 7 years, the researchers followed up to find out how many people had developed signs of dementia.
The people who’d started showing signs of dementia during those 7 years were twice as likely to have reported feeling depressed at the start of the study. It’s possible the underlying causes of depression may be wrapped up with the underlying causes of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the study authors say—though they’re quick to point out that hasn’t yet been proved. In fact, many of the non-dementia sufferers—nearly 15%—also showed signs of depression at the start of the experiment. So while feeling down in the dumps is worth keeping an eye on if you’re concerned about dementia (and your overall quality of life), it’s far from a sure sign the disease will settle in.
Here are five more surprising early signs of dementia—be sure to tell your doctor if any of these sound familiar.
Your taste buds change.
Big shifts in the kinds of foods you crave—especially a newfound preference for sweets—is another early warning sign, finds a Japanese study. The researchers say disease-related changes to the parts of your brain that control your taste buds and appetite may explain their findings. Some of the dementia sufferers in their study were even known to eat expired or rotten food.
You’ve started claiming “five-finger discounts.”
New criminal behaviors—stealing, trespassing, driving violations—may be an early sign of dementia, especially a front-brain variation of the disease called frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Research published in JAMA Neurologyfound breaking bad was the first sign of dementia in 14% of those suffering from FTD. The disease attacks the part of your brain that helps you recognize and respect social rules and conventions, which may explain the criminal behaviors, the authors say.
Sarcasm is lost on you.
Can’t tell when someone’s pulling your leg? An inability to detect lies, sarcasm, and other forms of “insincere speech” is another early symptom, suggests research from the University of California, San Francisco. The study authors say the disease messes with parts of your brain that spot and interpret “higher-order” verbal information.
You’re slowing down—physically.
A decrease in walking speed can precede any cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. New research suggests beta-amyloid buildup in the brain may be to blame. Those pieces of protein form the hallmark plaques thought to spur Alzheimer’s-related damage in the brain. In the latest study, published in Neurology, researchers tested the walking speed and scanned the brains of 128 people with an average age of 76 and found a link between beta-amyloid buildup and a slower gait. In fact, they estimate that beta-amyloid accounts for as much as 9% of the difference in people’s walking speed.
You’ve become a pack rat.
Hoarding and other compulsive, “ritualistic” behaviors have been linked to dementia, shows research from the University of California, Los Angeles. For example, buying a newspaper every day and saving it but never reading it is one example of the sort of new, compulsive behavior that may signal the onset of dementia.
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