Dementia is not one specific disease. The term ‘Dementia’ describes a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders that affect the brain. A person living with Dementia may experience difficulty thinking, behavioural changes, and a loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.
Deterioration of the brain is natural as we age, and older adults will experience certain changes in their thinking and functioning that is not necessarily related to Dementia. For someone living with Dementia, these changes occur much quicker.
There are a number of early signs that can give an indication that a person may have Dementia. For a diagnosis to be made, a person is normally experiencing two or more of the following symptoms, and the symptoms that they are experiencing are severe enough to interfere with their daily life. If a doctor thinks that one of their patients may have Dementia, they will perform tests to assess the level of ability with carrying out normal tasks.
1. Loss of Memory
Memory loss is a common symptom of Dementia. For example, a person living with Dementia may find it difficult to remember new information or things that they have recently learned, such as names, plans for the day, or future dates. In many cases, a person with Dementia will start to rely on their friends and family to keep them right, or use other things to aid their memory, such as a diary or mobile phone app. As we age it is common to forget things more often, however, if this forgetfulness is age-related, we can usually recall the information again later. For someone with Dementia, this is not normally the case.
2. Withdrawing from Social Events
Someone with Dementia may start to lose interest in socialising with other people. This may be seen in their home or work life, where they become withdrawn and don’t want to talk to other people. They may also struggle to pay attention when others are speaking to them. This shift in how they approach social situations may mean that they stop doing hobbies or sports that they previously enjoyed, as they do not want to be around other people.
3. Difficulty Speaking or Writing
Engaging in conversations can be difficult for a person with Dementia. In many cases, someone with Dementia may forget what they were talking about or what someone else has said. They may also find it difficult to join or start a conversation. Some people living with Dementia will see a decline in their spelling, punctuation, or grammar, and in some cases, their handwriting changes and becomes more difficult to read.
4. Difficulty With Familiar Tasks
For someone with Dementia, carrying out normal, routine tasks can be difficult; even if they have done these tasks hundreds of times before. This increasing difficulty may be seen at work or at home, where the person experiences problems trying to change the settings on a TV, making a cup of tea, traveling to a known location, or operating a computer.
5. Misplacing or Losing Things
This is a common early sign of Dementia. Someone with Dementia may frequently misplace everyday objects, such as the remote control for the TV, their wallet, or their keys. This can be extremely frustrating for them and cause significant distress until they find their items again.
6. Difficulty With Following Instructions & Problem Solving
Someone with Dementia may find it difficult to follow instructions, even simple step-by-step instructions. For example, they may struggle with directions when they are driving or following a recipe when they are cooking. For someone with Dementia, solving problems can also be difficult, for example, if they have to calculate numbers when they are paying their bills.
7. Personality or Mood Changes
Mood swings and personality changes are common in people living with Dementia. Someone living with Dementia may become more easily agitated, depressed, fearful, nervous, or anxious. In addition, they may lose their inhibitions and start to act in a way that can be deemed ‘inappropriate’ socially.
8. General Confusion
Someone living with Dementia may struggle to process visual information. As such, reading, judging distance, or differentiating colours can become problematic. Dementia can also affect a person’s judgement on the passing of time. As such, someone living with Dementia may find it hard to understand events that will take place in the future or have taken place in the past. They may also struggle with dates, and forget where they are from time to time.
If you are experiencing the above symptoms, or if you notice that a loved one is in a way that is affecting their daily lives, it is advisable to speak to a medical professional. These signs of cognitive decline may simply be occurring due to natural ageing, or they may be a sign of Dementia or another illness. A doctor is in the best position to diagnose the cause and offer relevant support.
For more information on this article, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Sue Silcox at Brain Sparks. You may also be interested in one of our previous articles ‘Dispelling 30 Myths About Dementia’.