Aug 10, 2016

Could an Early Sign of Dementia be Personality Changes?

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be devastating for individuals and their families. In addition to facing the prospect of mental decline, people in the early stages of dementia may begin to display personality changes and differences in behaviour.

Fortunately, individuals with dementia can be active participants in their care if the disease is diagnosed early enough. It is therefore important for people who notice personality changes in a friend or family member to suggest that the individual be screened for the presence of dementia. While there is no cure for dementia, an early diagnosis will enable individuals with the disease to be eligible for medications that can improve their cognition and quality of life.

Personality Changes that Suggest Dementia

Personality changes exhibited by a person are often one of the earliest signs of dementia. Differences in behaviour that represent a stark contrast to a person’s longstanding behaviour should be taken seriously and discussed with a healthcare provider. Below are some behaviours that warrant screening for dementia if they represent a drastic change in a person’s personality and have persisted for several months:

  • Aggressive or threatening behaviour
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Moodiness or temperamental behaviour
  • Unrealistic beliefs or thoughts about power, wealth or abilities
  • Absence of interest in people or activities previously enjoyed

Professional guidance should be sought if these behavioural changes are detected by a friend, family member, or the person himself/herself. A psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist or qualified mental health professional can perform a behavioural assessment and screen for the presence of dementia.

The Benefits of Detecting Dementia in its Early Stages

Early detection of dementia is instrumental in managing the disease and providing the diagnosed individual with a sense of reassurance. And if dementia is diagnosed early enough, people with the disease are able to make decisions regarding their treatment and care. For instance, they may opt to take part in research studies designed to benefit people diagnosed with dementia in the future. Perhaps most important, an early diagnosis of dementia enables people to receive medication that may enhance their cognitive abilities and quality of life.

Enlisting the Help of a Trusted Tool to Screen for Dementia

One way to detect the presence of dementia is to employ a screening tool developed by industry experts. The Mild Behavioural Impairment Checklist (MBI-C) is an excellent choice because it is relatively brief and can be completed by a clinician, a family member or friend, or the person exhibiting the personality changes. The MBI-C consists of 34 questions about the individual’s personality. The questions included in the MBI-C focus on the following five domains of the person’s personality:

  • The person’s interests and motivation
  • Mood or anxiety symptoms exhibited by the individual
  • The person’s impulse control and ability to delay gratification
  • The use of tact and adherence to societal norms
  • Sensory experiences and strongly held beliefs

Each question on the MBI-C asks if the individual has been exhibiting a particular behaviour for at least 6 months and if the behaviour represents a change from the person’s typical behaviour. If the respondent indicates that the behaviour is present, he or she is asked to use a 3 point scale to rate the severity of the behavioural change. Individuals with a positive score on the tool should receive further evaluation for dementia.


Diagnosing dementia as early as possible is a critical factor in management of the disease. Because personality changes suggest that a person may be in the early stages of dementia, it is important to screen for the presence of dementia if behavioural changes are exhibited. You should also enlist the support of a trained medical professional who can work with you to develop a treatment plan and medication regimen. If dementia is detected early enough, diagnosed individuals are able to actively participate in their treatment, which can help provide them with a sense of reassurance.

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