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How to spot the tell-tale signs of dementia

Dementia is such a common problem in the UK with over 850,000 people currently diagnosed as living with dementia. Specifically, one person every three minutes is diagnosed, but could you spot the early signs of dementia in a loved one?

To help, in this guide we’ll detail the key things you must look out for.

The two most common types of dementia

For most people, there is a lack of understanding of the different types of dementia, specifically the differences in symptoms between the two most common types, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The difference between Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s

The key difference between vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s is that the former involves symptoms that are similar to a stroke, such as partial paralysis or weakness in the muscles.

They also share many of the same symptoms.

The tell-tale signs of dementia

Someone suffering from dementia may experience the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with communication
  • Issues with focussing
  • Difficulty with reasoning

The key thing to remember is that dementia isn’t just about memory loss. It’s too easy to jump to conclusions when memory loss becomes a factor in later life. Dementia, however is much subtler and there are a number of things you should be looking out for.

For a diagnosis of dementia, your loved one must have one or more symptoms in addition to loss of memory.

Memory Loss

When it comes to memory loss, typical signs of dementia include:

Recent and short term memory loss

This involves forgetting recently acquired information such as appointments, names, telephone numbers and addresses. It’s unlikely that your loved one will remember them later. Often a person suffering with dementia will be able to remember events from the past with clarity but will struggle with their short term memory.

What to look out for: asking the same questions over and over and retelling the same stories. This is a key symptom for both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Forgetting how to do general and everyday tasks

This is where your loved one may forget how to do simple day to day tasks such as setting the table, driving to a familiar location, making a cup of tea, closing the front door or fridge door, or turning off the oven.

What to look out for: if your loved one begins to struggle to do a task that they once did with ease, such as cooking a certain dish, balancing a budget, or playing a favourite board game.

Communication problems

Typical things to look out for include:

Problems speaking and with language

Common language difficulties include stopping in mid-sentence with no idea how to continue, using words in the wrong context or forgetting everyday words such as the name of their husband or wife.

What to look out for: conversations becoming difficult, strained, and taking longer to complete.

Anger issues and mood swings

If an individual is suffering with dementia, often their mood and personality will change. They may start to become anxious, fearful, suspicious and confused. This can result in unprovoked anger and mood swings.

What to look out for: if your loved one goes from calm, to visibly upset to angry in a very short space of time.

Apathy and avoidance of loved ones

Depression is often associated with the early stages of dementia. This could include the avoidance of seeing people or sticking to a regular routine. Your loved one may also feel disconnected from society and feel like they are unable to properly communicate with other people.

What to look out for: any ongoing changes to your loved one’s routine and regular missed appointments. Pay particular attention if they begin to withdraw themselves from social situations.

Problems with focussing

You should start to look out for the following:

Misplacing things

An early sign of dementia to look out for is difficultly focussing around the house and putting things in the wrong place. This could include tea bags in the fridge, leaving the remote control in the cutlery draw or mixing up the washing machine and dishwasher.

What to look out for: confusion around where things should go around the home. This is different from forgetting things and remembering them later or forgetting to do simple everyday things like putting the milk back in the fridge.

Becoming confused in familiar surroundings

This includes confusion around where they are and how they got there, as well as problems remembering dates and seasons.

What to look out for: questions relating to their surroundings and how they got there.

Struggling to understand the passage of time

Those suffering from dementia struggle to understand the passage of time as everything is happening for them in the present. Time may pass very slowly for them, or they may find it difficult to comprehend the length of time since you last saw them.

What to look out for: if your loved one is critical of you not seeing them for a while when in actual fact you saw them very recently.

Problems calculating numbers

Numbers and their role in everyday life can become particularly difficult to understand for someone beginning to suffer from dementia. This could begin to affect their ability to balance their outgoings and track their bills but can also impact things like following recipes.

What to look out for: any missed payments on their bills and changes to their financial habits, including being more generous with their money.

Difficulties with reasoning

When it comes to problems with reasoning, these may include:

  • Problems judging distances
  • A lack of spatial awareness
  • Difficulty driving

What to look out for: if your parent or loved one needs help with everyday tasks such as feeding themselves or zipping up clothing.

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