Early warning signs of dementia to look for in the elderly
Are you worried that you or a loved one might be developing dementia? Find out more about how to recognise the warning signs of dementia. An early diagnosis will allow you to access the right treatments and to better plan for the future.
Dementia is a word used to describe a set of symptoms that affects a person’s memory and cognition or thinking, such as in the area of their language or problem-solving abilities. Initially, this may be small issues like forgetting the odd word or having to spend a few moments to try to remember what you were about to do. However, over time, they develop into more significant and disabling problems.
Dementia is the result of damage to the brain caused by diseases such as strokes or Alzheimer’s disease. Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia mean the same thing but, in fact, Alzheimer’s disease is only one form of dementia, which covers a wider range of diagnoses.
The five most common forms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy-Body disease, vascular dementia, fronto-temporal lobe dementia and mixed dementia, which is when there is more than one cause of dementia present.
Many people are afraid of the prospect of developing dementia, or of their loved ones developing the condition. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society, more than half of people who are worried that they are showing symptoms of the condition put off getting a diagnosis for up to a year.
However, although the idea of getting a dementia diagnosis may be frightening, there are several good reasons for seeing a doctor when you first start to notice symptoms. If there are problems with your memory, there can be real benefits to knowing this early.
The early stages of dementia are not always obvious, and symptoms and problems might develop slowly. To add to these difficulties, early signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia are frequently easy to dismiss as a normal sign of ageing.
However, if you know what to look out for, you can keep an eye on yourself and your loved ones and identify symptoms early. Some of the early warning signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s include:
This can manifest as listlessness and a loss of interest in something you used to enjoy. This can also be a symptom of depression, which, as mentioned above, can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
You do not need to have every symptom on the list above to go and see your doctor. If you have more than one of them and they are worrying you, make an appointment with your GP and see what they have to say. Even if they seem like mild symptoms at the moment, early diagnosis is key to a better outcome, and if you notice these problems, getting help soon can really help.
When to see your GP – Although it is more common in retired people, dementia can occur in people from around the age of 30 onwards. As dementia can affect more than your memory, including how you act, how you get around and how you speak, just being forgetful does not indicate dementia by itself. But you should never ignore symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s: they will not get any better if you hide the problem.
If you notice that there are problems getting in the way of your daily life, especially if they drag on for months, it may be time to talk to your GP, who is preferably somebody who knows you well. They will ask you about what you have been experiencing, they will examine you, and may do some blood tests and some memory and cognitive tests (such as asking you to name some animals or remember a street name).
The GP will want to rule out conditions such as:
If the GP is concerned, they will probably refer you to a specialist at a memory clinic.
Seeing a dementia specialist – The person who diagnoses dementia will normally be a specialist, such as a psychiatrist (a specialist in mental health), a geriatrician (a specialist in the physical health of older people) or a neurologist (a specialist in the nervous system). They will carry out more in-depth tests than your GP did, including:
There is not one single test that will diagnose dementia; you need to have a combination of tests and conversations with your doctor, looking at your history and how your problems developed, to put a picture together to see whether or not you have dementia and, if so, what type.
A nurse, doctor or psychologist could carry out different tests over a series of appointments, to inform your specialist about what your situation is.
If you do have a form of dementia, the doctor should communicate this clearly to you. They should also, ideally, talk to your family or whoever is closest to you, so that they understand your circumstances and what the next steps might be.
A diagnosis of dementia can feel devastating, and caring for somebody with dementia can be challenging, but it is important to use this time to make plans and work out how you want things to be.
There is no cure, although research is ongoing, so identifying the kind of private care you want, which is tailored to your precise needs and abilities, can make a big difference to your day-to-day life.
Care that is designed to meet your needs can be adapted as a disease progresses.
Care Professionals can:
Care Professionals who have specialised in conditions related to dementia and Alzheimer’s are always concerned about making sure that those they care for maintain their dignity at all times. They encourage activities that will help to keep somebody cognitively stimulated, and are trained in how to manage symptoms and help a person to deal with their own condition.
This kind of specialist at-home dementia care is invaluable for the person who has been diagnosed with dementia and wants to stay at home, and to reassure their family and friends that they will be safe and well looked after.