Living with dementia doesn’t just affect the person who’s been diagnosed, it impacts the whole families, and numbers are on the rise.
But spotting possible warning signs of dementia in the early stages can be tricky. Everybody gets a bit forgetful from time to time – so how do you know when memory loss is normal or a symptom?
“It is common to experience changes in our memory as we get older, so it can be difficult to recognise which changes are normal and which could indicate a problem,” says Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.
“While we all might draw a blank on someone’s name from time to time, or forget where we put our keys every once in a while, repeated and worsening forgetfulness that interferes with daily life could be more of a cause for concern.”
There are various ways this could occur - Dr Karen Harrison Dening, director of Admiral Nursing at Dementia UK, says common examples might include losing items regularly, getting lost or disorientated in seemingly familiar places and repeating oneself frequently. People might also get confused or muddled when it comes to routine tasks, like preparing a meal, getting dressed or putting the rubbish out.
“Dementia affects everyone differently, and memory changes are not the only possible early sign of the condition. Some people might experience personality changes, such as persistent uncharacteristic anger or irritability, lack of drive or low mood,” explains Dr Ridley.
Somebody might suddenly seem to lose interest in things they were previously very interested in. Personality changes could also include seeming more sensitive than usual, and getting frustrated or upset more easily. Dr Dening notes that mood swings can often occur too, so a person might seem quite “up and down”, and they might not be able to follow conversations like they used to.
Making poor judgements
A news report today – about an 84-year-old man with dementia who was repeatedly targeted by scammers and spent thousands of pounds on items that he didn’t need – highlights how people with dementia might lose their ability to make sound judgements in certain circumstances, which can make them extremely vulnerable.
“This can result in poor financial decisions and the inability to manage a budget,” notes Dr Ridley.