Individuals over the age of 65 are most at risk of developing dementia but the early signs of dementia can be present long before a diagnosis is received.
In this article we cover the most common symptoms of dementia and what to do if you notice these early signs.
Here’s a summary of what we will cover in this article:
- Dementia is the term used for a collection of symptoms where brain function is impaired.
- Dementia is progressive so it is vital to spot signs of the disease as soon as possible.
- Common early signs of dementia include: loss of memory, slower thought processing and mental acuity decline amongst others.
- Do not dismiss these signs as a natural part of aging, see your doctor straight away.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome made up of a collection of symptoms, where the function of the brain declines.
Most commonly we associate it with loss of short-term memory.
However, it can also affect mood, cause impaired judgment, and even change a person’s personality.
During the progression of the disease, brain cells become damaged and unable to repair themselves.
This damage prevents the normal communication between the cells, which leads to mood, personality and memory changes common in dementia.
Types of dementia
There are more than 400 types of dementia. The two types that are most common are vascular dementia and Alzheimers.
There is also ‘mixed’ dementia, which is a combination of these two types.
Vascular dementia affects the function of the body first, often causing mobility issues similar to a stroke.
It can also affect cognitive function, or how we think things through.
Alzheimer’s is characterised early on by memory loss and becoming confused in well-known places.
Struggling for words is also a symptom.
Early signs of dementia
The early symptoms of dementia will vary greatly between individuals and can be both physical and mental.
One patient might have many symptoms, another far less.
These symptoms and signs are often mild to begin with and are often overlooked.
For example, they can initially be attributed to a poor night’s sleep.
If they become more frequent they can be blamed on not having enough to do, post-retirement. Perhaps they can even be laughed off in some cases.
Mild cognitive impairment
These symptoms may worsen very slowly, and as such are called ‘mild cognitive impairment’. Sometimes these symptoms will advance into dementia.
It is important not to measure your health against anyone else who has these symptoms, but instead seek medical help.
Early signs of dementia to look out for:
- Becoming disorganised: Experiencing difficulty organising tasks or events.
- Increase in avoidance: Ignoring important issues, or perhaps telling untruths.
- A change in personality: Becoming less patient and understanding. Being snappy or short-tempered with loved ones.
- Increase in social anxiety: May begin to withdraw and become anxious about socialising. They may not be interested in hobbies and pastimes anymore.
- Concentration issues: Being unable to follow a TV programme or a conversation, or struggling to finish a book. Missing appointments.
- Money problems: Experiencing difficulty with money, such as making up the right change to pay in a shop.
What to do if you notice these signs?
Some of the early signs of dementia can be dismissed as natural signs of ageing, or may not even be noticeable to you or those around you for some time.
Symptoms could also be attributed to a different lifestyle, such as slowing down after leaving a career of many years.
However, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing, and it is important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.
There is currently no definitive test for dementia.
Instead there is a process of elimination undertaken whereby all other diseases are ruled out.
What will your doctor look for?
Your doctor will be able to refer you to the correct department to get all of the appropriate tests.
Blood tests and physical examinations will form part of this exploration.
You may be offered brain imaging scans to check on the condition of your brain.
Some other conditions do lead to dementia-like symptoms, such as heavy drinking and drug use, as well as strokes. A brain tumour will also need to be ruled out.
Many physical possibilities will be explored. Also advanced cognitive tests will be applied to test both memory and processing capabilities.
When to visit your doctor
It is important to see your doctor if you, or those around you, notice any early signs of dementia.
An early diagnosis is crucial in order to plan well for the next stages of life.
This might include asking family or friends to assist with previously routine tasks.
Perhaps scheduling taxis or lifts in advance for appointments in order to attend on the right day and time.
Planning for the future
You may want to update or make important legal documents such as a will while cognitive function is still good.
Consider taking out a lasting power of attorney to service your affairs in the future.
You may also want to create an ongoing care plan with your health service or care providers.
Taking charge of your own future while in the early stages of dementia care is absolutely key.
Can I prevent dementia?
Sadly, there is no proof that we can prevent dementia. However, there is some advice that may prove helpful in keeping the brain as healthy as possible:
- Eat a healthy diet, including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains
- Omega 3 fatty acids are recommended for general brain tissue health
- Stop smoking and cut down on alcohol consumption
- Stay physically active, at least 150 minutes of movement per week
- Keep your brain active as well, with games and memory puzzles
- Read more – reading is good brain training
- Learn more about how to cope with loneliness. Stay social – participate more in conversation and small talk
- Take a look at these tips on sensory stimulation
- And can hypnosis help dementia? In some cases, it could
There are also some great books on dementia here for further reading.