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. Protein deposits called and Lewy and movement.
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 change in behaviour, 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 what day it is or where you live is not normal, and is very often an early sign of dementia.
2 – Confusion
Watch out for periods of confusion. In the early stages of dementia, the person might become confused about where they are, or start talking about events that happened in the past more than normal. Disorientation, especially away from home, is a red flag.
3 – Personality Changes
If a person with a previously sunny disposition becomes irritable and aggressive, this could be an early sign of dementia. Rapid mood swings are common; some people become less inhibited and display overly sexualized behaviour.
4 – Withdrawal and Depression
Depression is common in the early stages. The person is aware something isn’t right, but they don’t know what the problem is. They might lose interest in hobbies or stop going out because they are afraid of becoming disoriented or confused.
5 – Difficulty with Common Tasks
Spatial skills and abstract thinking skills are amongst the first to suffer as brain cells begin to die. People with early signs of dementia often have problems dealing with money. They lose the ability to balance a cheque book or pay a bill. They might also have a problem judging distance when driving, even if they have previously been a safe driver.
6 – Language Problems
The language centre of the brain is affected in the early stages of dementia. If the person is having a problem finding the right words or struggles to build coherent sentences, they could be suffering from dementia. ‘Word soup’ is common, which is where the person comes out with a string of unrelated words.
7 – Poor Judgement
Con artists and scammers often target older people. They are considered ‘soft targets’ because many seniors lack judgement and are quick to hand over money. Keep a close eye on your elderly relative and make sure he or she is not demonstrating poor judgement. If they start dressing inappropriately or spending unusual sums of money, these are both warning signs.
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s a term that references a number of symptoms related to a decline in thinking skills and memory. There are many different forms of dementia, but all of them steal the person you love and leave nothing but a shell behind. The person you once knew is lost and becomes a complete stranger. If you suspect there is a problem, speak to the person’s doctor and organise a dementia assessment. If you want to ensure the well-being of an older relative with dementia at home, this page may interest you.