Dementia Checklist: The 5 Early Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

A concern for our ageing loved ones is the onset of Dementia, but you can get incredible help with early diagnosis. Here’s our Dementia checklist to work through together.

Dementia checklist: What is Dementia?

According to NHS Digital, “477,623 UK patients had a recorded diagnosis of Dementia on 31 January 2024”; 64.4% of those patients were over the age of 65. But this is a fraction of those suffering. It is thought that as many as 6 in 10 people go undiagnosed. That’s why having a Dementia checklist available is paramount.

So what is Dementia, and why does it affect so many people?

Dementia is an incurable neurological disorder that gradually decreases cognitive function – things like memory, thinking, and behaviour. It significantly impacts our ability to carry out what we’ve come to think of as routine tasks, such as making tea or recognising familiar faces.

While there are many known forms of the disease, we think of Alzheimer’s when someone mentions Dementia. And while it is the most common form, diagnosis can also include 

  • Vascular Dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies
  • Frontotemporal Dementia
  • and mixed Dementia, to name a few. 

With each form of the disease, you may need to consider different symptoms and treatment plans.

Dementia: Why is early detection crucial?

While sadly, there is no cure for Dementia as yet, there are therapies and treatments that can support patients through their diagnosis, along with medication. The earlier your diagnosis, the quicker you have access to suitable options for the disease.

Early detection of Dementia not only provides a clearer path for medical support but also allows for comprehensive family planning. This means making informed decisions about long-term care, which doesn’t necessarily involve care home placements. You could consider Dementia Home Care, a service we offer at Home Instead, Watford, that provides personalised care in the comfort of your home and works with your NHS healthcare professionals.

elderly couple reviewing medication

Dementia checklist: What are the 5 early signs?

Depending on the type of Dementia, you may notice one or more of these early signs, and they may progress much faster with some disease variants than others.

Let’s take a look at what these signs are and how you might spot them.

Sign #1: Memory Loss

While not all memory loss is an indicator of Dementia, it can be one of the most common signs of the condition.

Memory loss can be split into two types: short-term memory loss and long-term memory loss. Short-term memory loss is when a person has trouble remembering recent events, conversations or details of things they have just done. Long-term memory loss is when a person has difficulty remembering things from the past, such as childhood memories or significant life events.

A person with Dementia may forget important dates and appointments, misplace items, have difficulty following conversations or instructions, and repeat questions or stories daily. 

You may also notice long-term memory changes, either forgetting lifelong friends or family members or remembering only snippets of significant moments, which they refer to as if they were yesterday instead of years before.

It can be incredibly confusing and a significant cause of anxiety and sometimes arguments.

Sign #2: Difficulty with familiar tasks

People with Dementia often struggle with tasks that they have done routinely throughout their lives. As the disease progresses, they may struggle to complete simple tasks such as preparing tea, getting dressed, or even brushing their teeth. 

As you can imagine, it can be incredibly frustrating for both the person with Dementia and their loved ones, as it can lead to a loss of independence, sometimes embarrassment and a decreased quality of life.

It is essential that the care path you choose affords dignity during what feels like a difficult decline.

care professional watching an elderly lady complete a shape matching game

Sign #3: Language problems

Language problems can also be a sign of Dementia and should be carefully monitored. These issues can manifest in various ways, including repeating oneself, struggling to follow a conversation and experiencing difficulty understanding idiomatic expressions or sarcasm.

Sometimes, when reading and writing, you may notice increased spelling, grammar, and syntax issues. You may also notice poor handwriting, shorter phrasing or even unfinished words.

As the disease progresses, language problems can become more pronounced and affect the individual’s ability to communicate effectively. For example, they may use the wrong words or substitute one word for another, leading to confusion and misunderstandings. They may also have trouble communicating their thoughts or needs, leading to frustration and anxiety. This can be incredibly challenging for both the person with Dementia and their family.

You and your care team must take time to understand what your loved one needs. Don’t make assumptions; instead, communicate in a way that encourages engagement and develops trust and respect.

Sign #4: Disorientation

Another common symptom of Dementia is disorientation, which can cause individuals to become confused and lose their sense of direction. This happens because Dementia affects the brain’s ability to process information and recognise familiar surroundings. As a result, people with Dementia may struggle to navigate their way around familiar environments, such as their own homes, or may become lost when out in public.

You should look for several types of disorientation, including

  1. Time disorientation, where the person may lose track of the day, date, or time of day
  2. Place disorientation, where the person may forget where they are or become confused about their surroundings
  3. And person disorientation, where the person may forget the names of people they know well or confuse them with others.

You and your care team must find a way to manage moments of disorientation in a way that encourages independence and avoids withdrawal. Losing one’s confidence is often debilitating.

older man holding his head in his hands confused

Sign #5: Changes in personality and behaviour

If you notice any of the following signs of personality or behavioural change along with earlier indicators, it could be a sign of onset Dementia

  • Seeming more anxious, agitated, or irritable
  • Expressing depression or extreme apathy
  • Becoming more withdrawn or less interested in social activities
  • Changes in impulse control
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • and less motivated to do things they used to enjoy

While it is natural to want to help, the help we provide at this stage must start with dialogue. Normalising discussion around feelings, concerns and asking for help encourages your loved one to accept care and treatments.

Dementia checklist: Your next steps if you spot one or more signs

If you’ve used our Dementia checklist and identified one or more signs, it’s crucial to take action. Your vigilance and early recognition could be the key to accessing the proper care. This journey starts with a diagnosis.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Symptom Checklist is supported by the Royal College of GPs and can be completed online. While it isn’t a definitive diagnosis, it can help you in speaking directly with your GP.

Once you have an official GP or local NHS hospital diagnosis, your next step is to seek Dementia care and home help.

Take some time to consider what you really need here; we recommend a three-pronged approach.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Dementia Friendly Watford hosts various clubs where you and your loved one can socialise and learn from a community of volunteers and fellow carers. These resources are here to support you every step of the way and can be very helpful in opening up about a diagnosis or prognosis.

Secondly is implementing Home Care services. Home Instead can help you with several social care options, including specialist help with additional areas like medication monitoring and providing mind-stimulating activities that build self-esteem. Just call us for guidance.

Thirdly, there are Live-in Care and Palliative options. While that is likely a way off, it is something to consider depending on the diagnosis and prognosis. Having these conversations early on helps you both to plan for when and if you need more structured and full-time help. Again, we can help you with that.

A home instead care professional chatting with an elderly man in his home

Ready to talk to someone about Dementia Home Care?
Book a no-obligation home visit today on 01923 250513.