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Synapse loss is a key feature of dementia but it is unclear whether synaptic dysfunction precedes degenerative phases of the disease. Here, we show that, even before any decrease in synapse density, there is abnormal turnover of cortical axonal boutons and dendritic spines in a mouse model of tauopathy-associated dementia. Strikingly, tauopathy drives a mismatch in synapse turnover; postsynaptic spines turn over more rapidly whereas presynaptic boutons are stablised. This imbalance between pre- and post-synaptic stability coincides with reduced synaptically- driven neuronal activity in pre-degenerative stages of the disease.