Signs of Dementia in Men

Dementia can be a debilitating condition that significantly impacts an individual and his or her family’s quality of life. And make no mistake: Signs of dementia in men can differ from signs of dementia in women.

signs of dementia in men

A study conducted by Cambridge University attributes a recent decrease in the number of men in the UK diagnosed with dementia to public measures for improved health, such as quitting smoking and improving one's diet and activity level.

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It’s important to be familiar with the signs of dementia in men; early diagnosis allows for initiation of treatment and planning for the future.

Dementia is a term used to describe significant impairment of two or more critical brain functions (such as memory, language, judgment, or reasoning) that impacts a person’s ability to function in daily life. Dementia can be caused by a number of different diseases and conditions. While Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the best-known cause of dementia, there are many other causes of dementia ranging from vascular disease (e.g., stroke or vasculitis) to rare inherited forms of dementia (such as some forms of frontal lobe dementia).

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Dementia Statistics in Men

Statistics from the Aging, Demographics, and Memory Study (ADAMS) revealed that approximately 14 percent of Americans 71 years and older have some form of dementia. The prevalence is slightly higher among women; the same study showed that 16 percent of women 71 and older suffer from dementia, compared with 11 percent of men.

The reasons for this gender difference are still unclear, but theories include longer life expectancies in women, hormonal influences or genetic risk factors (the effect of estrogen on the APOE-e4 gene for AD), and historical differences in education (low education is a known risk factor for dementia).

What Are the Signs of Dementia in Men?

Dementia signs and symptoms can vary from person to person over time (particularly if it is a progressive form of dementia), depending on the underlying cause. Certain signs, however, are relatively common to many forms of dementia.

Cognitive Changes

  • Memory loss: Memory impairment, particularly with remembering recent events, is a hallmark of most forms of dementia.
  • Difficulty with planning or organizing: Tasks that involve the need to account for multiple factors or details become increasingly challenging.
  • Communication impairment: Difficulty communicating, especially in finding the right words to use, is a common feature of dementia.
  • Disorientation: Problems with geographic directions and time orientation can also be present. This can range from someone forgetting dates to forgetting where they are and how they got to that place.
  • Difficulty with numbers or problem-solving: People suffering from dementia may have trouble handling money, paying bills, or solving problems such as managing a budget at work.
  • Problems with spatial relationships: Some individuals may have difficulty perceiving differences in distance, color, or contrast that can impact activities ranging from playing a sport such as golf to driving.

Behavioral Changes

  • Poor judgment: Patients with dementia may experience deterioration in their judgment leading them to make decisions they may not have made before such as buying large quantities of items they don’t need or wouldn’t have had interest in before.
  • Mood alteration: Dementia can result in significant changes in a person’s mood ranging from depression to anxiety to paranoia. It may be difficult to reason with a person suffering from dementia.
  • Social withdrawal: As tasks become more challenging for someone with dementia, they may begin to withdraw from activities and social interactions they used to participate in.
  • Inattention to personal grooming: Dementia can cause an individual to begin to neglect their personal hygiene and grooming.

Physical Changes

Physical changes associated with dementia are more significantly associated with the underlying etiology of the dementia (e.g., a stroke that results in partial paralysis) and tend to occur later in the course of the dementia, but some common changes include:

  • Loss of coordination: People with later stage dementia tend to have difficulty moving and performing tasks in a coordinated fashion and often appear clumsy. In the very latest stages of dementia, many people may even lose their mobility altogether and become bedridden.
  • Loss of speech: While language or word recall is often an early sign of dementia, some individuals go on to lose the ability to speak at all.
  • Incontinence: As dementia progresses, loss of bowel and bladder control can occur.

Differences in Signs of Dementia in Men and Women

While many dementia signs and symptoms are common to both men and women, research has demonstrated that there are gender differences in the rate and degree to which people experience some of these symptoms.

  • Verbal skills: A study published in the journal Neurology demonstrated that men with dementia retained verbal fluency, the ability to correctly perform naming tasks, and the ability to successfully perform delayed recall of words longer than women with dementia.
  • Subjective memory complaints: One study demonstrated a significant difference in the appearance of memory disturbances between men and women. Women experienced memory impairment earlier in the course of their dementia than did men.
  • Depressive symptoms: Another study found that men who experienced depressive symptoms had a significantly higher risk of developing dementia, particularly AD, than did women with depressive symptoms.
  • Rate of symptom progression: A recently published study from Duke University suggests that once the initial symptoms of dementia appear in men and women, they tend to progress at a faster rate in women compared to men. As CBS News reported, “Researchers from Duke University Medical Center looked at about 400 men and women, mostly in their mid-70s, with mild cognitive impairment, a condition involving a slight but noticeable decline in memory and thinking skills. Over the course of up to eight years, the data showed that the cognitive abilities of the female participants declined twice as fast as their male counterparts.”
  • Lead researcher Katherine Amy Lin, the Wrenn Clinical Research Scholar in Alzheimer’s disease at Duke University Medical Center, summarized the results in a statement issued to the media.”These results point to the possibility of as yet undiscovered gender-specific genetic or environmental risk factors that influence the speed of decline,” Lin noted. “Uncovering those factors should be a high priority for future research.”

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

DIGGING IN: MORE INFORMATION ON DEMENTIA

Dementia is a heartbreaking disease for families. It helps to know as much as you can about what causes dementia, the stages of dementia, and what you can do to stave it off. Consult these posts at University Health News for up-to-date information penned by our team of medical writers and editors.


Originally published in May 2016 and updated.

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