One in three people in the UK will develop dementia, 66% of them women. If the symptoms of dementia are detected in the early stages, people can develop strategies and access help and support to ensure they continue to enjoy a good quality of life.
Here we provide guidance on what dementia is, the different types of dementia and how keeping an ‘early signs of dementia checklist close to hand can help you spot the warning signs of dementia early.
What is dementia?
There are currently an estimated 944,00 people (2022 figures Alzheimer’s UK) living with dementia in the UK and this number is expected to rise to over one million within the next five years. Dementia is an umbrella term that encompasses several symptoms, most of which revolve around the loss of memory and a decline in cognitive function.
The symptoms of dementia occur when once-healthy neurons in the brain lose their connection with other brain cells and die. While losing some neurons is a normal part of the ageing process, people with dementia lose neurons at a much faster rate.
Along with memory loss and cognitive decline, dementia can lead to other symptoms such as difficulties controlling emotions, problems with language or speech, difficulties with reasoning or problem-solving and personality changes. The symptoms of dementia range in severity as the disease progresses.
Types of dementia
There are over 200 types of dementia, but the most common forms are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia and mixed dementia.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s disease is the most commonly diagnosed dementia. Not all the causes of Alzheimer’s are known, but it is believed that an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain might damage healthy neurons and the fibres that connect them and lead to dementia symptoms.
- Vascular dementia: Vascular dementia is a form of dementia that is triggered by a stroke or a mini-stroke. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease including memory loss, and difficulties with movement and communication.
- Mixed dementia: Mixed dementia is a combination of two or more types of dementia.
Less common forms of dementia include:
- Frontotemporal dementia: This is a rare form of dementia that often occurs in people aged 60 or younger. It is brought on by the breakdown of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Since these areas of the brain control language and behaviour, common symptoms include difficulties with language and speech and behavioural and personality changes.
- Lewy bodies dementia: Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is a rare and progressive form of dementia.
What is the first sign of dementia?
The first signs of dementia are often very subtle and vague, and they may not be immediately obvious. Many times, people notice a behavioural change, but they mistakenly assume it’s just part of the ageing process.
Every person living with dementia will experience it in a different way. For some people the first changes will be with short-term memory, others will notice changes in their speech and conversation.
5 Early Signs of Dementia Checklist
This checklist for the early signs of dementia can help you detect any early warning signs of dementia. If you, or someone you care about is experiencing any of these changes there are further resources on the Alzheimer’s Society website and your GP can advise about a memory assessment.
1 – Memory Problems
Becoming more forgetful as we age is not uncommon. We all misplace our keys occasionally or miss an appointment. However, forgetting something you were recently told or regularly repeating yourself when talking to others can be an early sign of dementia.
2 – Learning New Things
Everyone can find it tricky to learn new things and it may take longer than usual to do things such as set up a new computer but not being able to learn how to use a new household appliance such as a microwave or washing machine may be a sign of dementia.
3 – Mood and Personality Changes
We can all feel irritable or low sometimes or just not feel like going out or socialising but when these feelings persist it is important to seek help. Withdrawing from friends and family, stopping doing activities you sued to enjoy or becoming easing upset, angry or tearful are all signs you should see a GP.
4 – Planning and making decisions
Normal changes when we get older include taking longer to make decisions or finding it more difficult to multitask or occasionally making miscalculations with money or missing dates and deadlines. However, when people make rash character decisions or get very confused when carrying our daily tasks, perhaps doing things in the wrong order and can no longer manage their routine finances it may be a sign of dementia. Older adults and people with dementia are more at risk of scams both online and in person. It can be difficult to weigh information and people may make unwise choices. Speak to someone you trust and discuss any big purchases or other financial commitments.
5 – Difficulties with speaking and conversation
It is normal to occasionally struggle to find the right word or lose track of a conversation if there are lots of distractions but if you regularly struggle to say what you mean or cannot keep up with conversations, this may indicate there is a problem.
How to get a Dementia diagnosis
If you believe a loved one is displaying the early signs of dementia, it’s always worth accompanying them for a visit with their GP. The earlier Dementia is diagnosed, the sooner they can start receiving the support they need.
There is no simple test that can diagnose Dementia, so diagnosis will usually require a variety of assessments. Although the assessment process will vary for everyone, for many people the process usually follows these steps:
1 – The Initial Assessment
Your GP or other healthcare professional will perform an initial assessment. This assessment often includes taking a personal medical history, a physical examination, and blood and sometimes urine testing. The GP may also test your loved one’s mental abilities by asking a series of questions to understand their memory, reasoning and awareness of the time and date. At the end of their assessment, the GP will discuss their findings and explain what actions, if any, need to be taken.
2 – Visit a Memory Service
If the GP believes your loved one might have dementia, they will refer you to a local memory service. These clinics have medical staff who specialise in dementia. A specialist will test your loved one’s memory and see how they respond to a variety of questions. A brain scan may also be recommended to look for changes in the brain.
3 – Diagnosis or Further Testing
After you visit the memory service, the specialist will explain their findings. If your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, they will be able to access the support that is right for them. If a dementia diagnosis is not given at this time, they will recommend the next steps in helping you find an explanation for your symptoms.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s a term that references several symptoms related to a decline in thinking skills and memory. Although there is currently no cure for Dementia, there are medications that may reduce or delay the progression of symptoms. Although Dementia causes significant changes in health and well-being over time, it is entirely possible to live well with Dementia with the right help and support in place. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you care about, take a look at the resources on the Alzheimer’s Society website for the next steps.
It may also be beneficial to start thinking about care options. It’s important to speak to your loved one about their wishes going forward. When given the choice, many people prefer to stay in the comfort of their own homes to receive the dedicated Dementia support they need. As an established care provider, Prestige Nursing & Care has supported individuals living with dementia to enjoy an improved quality of life in their own homes and communities for over 75 years. Our expert dementia care at home means your loved one can continue to live life their way, whilst benefiting from one-to-one care provided by a competent and compassionate carer.
Contact a member of our team to see if help at home is right for you.