It can be difficult to detect the early signs of dementia, because the symptoms are subtle and often easily confused for other things. Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of different brain disorders than can affect cognitive function and make independent living difficult.
Dementia symptoms can affect the memory, thinking, mood and behaviour of a person, interfering with their ability to participate in their normal activities. This can also impact their loved ones, who may feel concern or distress.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is the term used to refer to a range of symptoms caused by specific medical disorders – those that cause abnormal brain changes and cognitive decline. These changes cause a decline in thinking and memory skills and often affect personality and mood as well. The symptoms can impact a person’s ability to go about their daily life.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Other common types of dementia include vascular dementia, lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia. The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every 5 years after the age of 65.
Warning signs of dementia, such as memory problems, are often mistakenly dismissed as normal signs of ageing, but it’s important to get a diagnosis as early as possible to prevent rapid decline.
Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
The signs of dementia can vary greatly from person to person. They can also be easy to miss, so it’s important to look out for the frequency and severity of symptoms. Examples of common early symptoms include:
- Trouble remembering recently learned information
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks, such as getting dressed
- Repeatedly losing commonly-used items or forgetting what they’re for
- Getting lost, especially on the way to familiar places
- Putting things in inappropriate places (e.g. a pair of socks in the freezer)
- Apathy and withdrawal or depression
- Striking or sudden personality changes
- Exhibiting signs of paranoia
- Coordination problems
- Trouble problem-solving or exhibiting correct judgement (e.g. wearing a thick jacket in hot weather)
- Getting easily irritated
Many of these symptoms overlap with other disorders and health conditions, so a diagnosis by a healthcare provider may be necessary to confirm that dementia is the cause. The symptoms also usually get worse over time, so early professional evaluation can allow time for treatment and planning.
Early Signs of Dementia Checklist
Some early symptoms of dementia can seem like typical age-related changes, so it’s important to know what to look for.
Misplacing Commonly Used Items
A person with dementia might put things in places where they clearly don’t belong, such as an iron in the freezer or a remote control in a drawer in the kitchen. They may also frequently misplace things and have trouble finding them later, such as hiding their money or putting their keys in the fruit bowl.
Having Poor or Decreased Judgement
Examples of this might include things like forgetting to wash regularly, forgetting to brush their teeth and forgetting to regularly go to the bathroom. The person might also make bad decisions involving money.
Rapid, unexplained mood or personality changes can be an early sign of dementia. This might include sudden confusion, suspicion, paranoia or fear. Increased anxiety, paranoia and depression can also be a sign of dementia. If the person rapidly shifts between being upset, angry and calm with no provocation, this is a significant sign.
Forgetting Recently Learned Information
It’s common to occasionally forget a name or appointment and then remember it later. However, it’s a sign of dementia if the person is constantly struggling to retain new information and asking for it over and over again. The person may also forget things and then not remember them later, even when prompted. This memory loss can interfere with their daily routine.
Trouble Completing Familiar Tasks
If the person is having trouble completing simple everyday tasks, such as getting dressed, setting the table or making a cup of tea, this could be a sign of dementia. This is most obvious if it’s a task that they’ve done many times before that they’ve suddenly forgotten, rather than needing help with something they’ve only recently learned (e.g. using a social media account).
Disorientation to Time and Place
Most people will forget the day of the week every once in a while, or walk into a room and forget what they were looking for. However, a person with dementia might get lost on their own street with no idea how they got there or how to get home. They may also lose track of time more easily.
Loss of Initiative
One of the early signs of dementia can be a loss of interest in social activities or hobbies and becoming disinterested in work or other pursuits. The person may show signs of reclusive behaviour, rather than just tiredness or weariness.
Trouble Communicating or Finding the Right Words to Use
This might include struggling to choose the right word for what they mean or having trouble following along a conversation. In some cases, the person might stop speaking in the middle of a sentence with no idea how to continue. They might forget simple words or use words in the wrong context, such as referring to a sink as a bin.
How to Help Someone Who is Showing Early Signs of Dementia
If you are concerned about your loved one, the best thing to do is talk to the person’s local doctor about beginning the diagnosis process. An early diagnosis is necessary for treatment and symptom management so a medical assessment will provide clarity.
After receiving a diagnosis, the person may wish to either stay at home or enter residential care. Aged care homes have facilities that are specifically designed to cater for residents with dementia, so this can be a good option to consider.
Banfields Aged Care provides support for dementia residents in a large, light filled memory support wing with an outdoor area and up to date smart technology.
Contact us today to find out how you can support your loved one once they’ve been diagnosed with dementia.