Individuals with dementia may experience a variety of cognitive symptoms. They may be aware of their symptoms in the early stages of dementia, but may lose awareness in the later stages.

The term dementia refers to a range of conditions that involve a deterioration in someone’s ability to process thoughts. The most common of these conditions is Alzheimer’s disease, which makes up between 60% and 80% of dementia cases.

In the early stages of dementia, people may become forgetful or have difficulty navigating familiar places. In the later stages, they may exhibit behavioral changes and have difficulty with mobility.

This article explores dementia in more detail, including its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. The article also discusses whether people with dementia know they have it.

Alzheimer’s and dementia resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit our dedicated hub.

Was this helpful?
Close-up image of a person's hands resting on old black and white photographsShare on Pinterest
Branimir76/Getty Images

Dementia is a general term that describes a decline in cognitive function, which refers to a person’s ability to process thoughts. It is more common in older individuals and affects around one-third of people over 85 years of age. However, dementia is not a standard part of aging.

Most people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease. Individuals with this condition experience cognitive decline that worsens over time. Scientists believe that damage to brain cells leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a person may develop other types of dementia, including vascular and mixed dementia. Damage to blood vessels in the brain causes vascular dementia, while mixed dementia occurs when someone has multiple forms of dementia simultaneously. The most common form of mixed dementia is Alzheimer’s with vascular dementia.


The symptoms of dementia vary according to the type of dementia. However, some common symptoms people experience with different forms of dementia may include:

  • losing certain memories
  • forgetting names of familiar individuals
  • getting lost in familiar places
  • having trouble remembering words

As dementia progresses, people may also exhibit symptoms such as:

  • getting confused at home
  • having difficulty following conversations and communicating
  • requiring assistance with daily tasks
  • losing track of time or location
  • experiencing mood swings or unusual behavior
  • having difficulty recognizing friends or family members

Mild and occasional forgetfulness is not in itself a sign of dementia. It is typical to occasionally misplace items or momentarily forget a name. These memory lapses can become more common as people age.

Individuals who believe they may be experiencing early signs of dementia should speak with a healthcare professional who can determine whether these symptoms indicate dementia.

In the early stages of dementia, symptoms are often mild. Individuals experiencing these symptoms may mistake them as typical signs of aging or even stress. They may be aware of their symptoms, but they may not suspect dementia as the cause.

If an individual consults a medical professional about these symptoms, they may receive a diagnosis. People in the early stages of dementia may understand their diagnosis and its implications.

However, it is important to note that dementia affects every person differently and that symptoms vary between people.

In the later stages of dementia, individuals may not be aware of their condition. The later stages of dementia involve a significant loss of cognitive function. People in this stage may lose the ability to speak and function independently.

The effects of dementia can be challenging, both for individuals with the condition and their loved ones. Even if someone does not understand their condition, they will still experience its effects which may cause distress.

Learn more about how to talk with someone with dementia.

There is no single test for diagnosing dementia. A diagnosis of the condition may involve a series of tests and require multiple doctors.

A medical professional will perform a full examination as part of a dementia diagnosis. First, they will ask questions to learn more about a person’s current symptoms and medical history. A doctor may also carry out certain tests to evaluate a person’s mental status.

They may also perform other physical tests to make sure there is not another condition causing someone’s symptoms. These may include blood tests or imaging scans of the brain. If the doctor is not a dementia specialist, they may refer a person to a specialist for further tests.

In most cases, doctors will also ask a family member or close friend to come to a diagnostic appointment. This individual can confirm symptoms and answer questions about behavior changes.

There is currently no cure for dementia. However, there are several approaches that may help someone manage their symptoms and slow disease progression.

Certain medications can help improve cognitive function temporarily. Medical professionals can also provide support for mobility or speech difficulties.

People with dementia may also benefit from modifications to their living environment. For example, signs or labels can make it easier for a person to navigate their home and remember certain tasks. Keeping the environment clean and free of clutter can also help someone navigate their surroundings.

Other memory aids may also make it easier for someone to carry out daily activities. Smartphone alarms, calendar alerts, and voice memos may help ease someone’s daily life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommend following a healthy lifestyle. This includes exercising, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining a social life. A person may reduce the chance of developing chronic conditions such as dementia by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Here are some frequently asked questions about dementia.

Does a person with dementia know they are confused?

In the early stages of dementia, a person may be aware of confusion, but they may attribute their symptoms to anxiety or stress. They may also be aware of memory problems or disorientation. As the condition progresses, the individual may not be able to communicate their confusion well.

What do people with dementia think about?

A person with dementia can think about the same things as a person without dementia. However, they may experience problems with memory, reasoning, judgment, and attention.

The term dementia refers to a range of conditions that affect cognitive function over time. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. People may also develop vascular dementia, mixed dementia, or other types of dementia.

In the early stages of dementia, individuals may be aware of their symptoms and condition. They may receive an early diagnosis that helps them and their loved ones prepare for the future.

A dementia diagnosis can be challenging for an individual and their loved ones. A healthcare professional can offer further advice and support and provide a treatment plan for a person with dementia.