Dementia Risk Factors and Red Flags

Dementia Risk Factors & Red Flags

Guide for Community Partners

Dementia is a broad term for any medical condition causing problems with either memory or speech, concentration or more complex thinking involving problem solving, planning and organization with impairment in activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia account for the majority of the 5.4 million dementia cases in the U.S. today.


Risk Factors

These factors elevate a person’s risk, although dementia can occur without any factors present.

  • Age – risk increases with age
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Down Syndrome
  • Family history and genetics
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Smoking
  • Stroke

Red Flags

Patient is…

  • Forgetful and repeating questions
  • Not able to perform familiar tasks (e.g. use phone, pay bills, cook meals)
  • Having new problems speaking or writing (e.g. saying “mouth thing” instead of toothbrush)
  • A “poor historian” or “seems off”
  • Inattentive to appearance, inappropriately dressed for the weather, or dirty
  • Having difficulty discussing current events in an area of interest
  • Failing to appear for scheduled appointments or comes at the wrong time or on the wrong day
  • Repeatedly and apparently unintentionally fails to follow instructions (e.g. changing medications)
  • Having unexplained weight loss, “failure to thrive” or vague symptoms (e.g. weakness or dizziness)
  • Unable to adapt or experiences functional difficulties under stress (e.g. the hospitalization, death or illness of a spouse)
  • Defers to a caregiver (e.g. a family member answers questions directed to the patient)

Checklist: What To Ask…

  • Is he/she repeating or asking the same thing over and over?
  • Trouble remembering appointments, family occasions, holidays?
  • Difficulty writing checks, paying bills, balancing the checkbook?
  • Need help shopping for groceries, clothing, etc.?
  • Is he/she taking medications according to instructions?
  • Does he/she get lost while walking or driving in familiar places?

Dementia Warning Signs

Scott Halstead, PhD, talks about the top 9 warning signs of dementia and how these differ from typical age-related changes. Dr. Halstead is clinical neuropsychologist and Corporate Director of Pine Rest Outpatient and Recovery Services.