Dementia is the name given to a number of degenerative conditions of the brain, of which the commonest is Alzheimer’s disease. It is most often found in people over 65 years of age, but can also affect much younger people. People are often reluctant to admit that they may be developing dementia, as this makes them fearful for the future. Friends and relatives can help by spotting the early signs, and helping them to obtain a diagnosis.
Many of the symptoms quoted could also be the result of other conditions that can be medically treated. Visiting a doctor at an early stage will help you, or your relative, to be sure whether or not dementia is present. This will help you to plan for the future.
Some factors to look out for are as follows:
It is often thought that memory loss is a normal sign of ageing, but for many people it is also the first indication that they are developing dementia. Forgetting things occasionally is probably normal, but repeated memory lapses may be a cause for concern. Typically, a person with dementia will have a good recollection of past events, but will struggle to remember what happened more recently.
It is helpful to look out for signs that a person is becoming confused. This might take the form of being lost or disorientated, or becoming unaware of where they are or of the time of day. At the same time, they may forget names of people or common objects, and find it difficult to communicate with others.
Difficulty with everyday tasks
Another early symptom is losing the ability to carry out apparently simple tasks. A person with dementia may, for instance, forget that they are cooking a meal and wander off to start another task. Judgement is often impaired; this may first be noticed if a person starts to drive erratically. It also becomes very difficult for a person to learn any new skills.
Sometimes a person who appears to be depressed is in fact developing dementia. Apathy and withdrawal, especially in a previously outgoing person, can be reasons for concern. Other signs include mood changes, or behaving in a way that is out of character, perhaps becoming argumentative or aggressive.
There are tests available to confirm the presence of dementia, and once a firm diagnosis has been received the patient, and their family, can begin to plan for the future. Doing this at an early stage gives the patient more opportunity to contribute to plans for their care, and to express their own wishes. It also gives them more time to put their financial affairs into order and to arrange for matters such as enduring power of attorney.