Dementia is a term which describes a set of symptoms related to the brain, particularly the parts that control memory, speech and problem solving. The symptoms and signs of dementia can be caused by a few different conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and a series of strokes. All forms of dementia are brought on by a loss of brain cells and are progressive, which means that there is no cure and symptoms will get steadily worse over time. Evidence suggests that by the time a person begins exhibiting the signs and symptoms of dementia, the disease has already been causing damage to the brain for a long period of time.
Signs of Dementia
The diseases that contribute towards dementia symptoms can affect anyone and there is no way to determine exactly who will develop them. However, in-depth studies into dementia have shown that there are a few contributing factors which can increase the risk.
These include mid-life hearing loss (which is responsible for 9% of the risk level), failure to complete secondary education, smoking, lack of physical activity, social isolation, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Together these potentially modifiable factors increase the risk of contracting dementia by around 35%, the remaining 65% is made up of non-modifiable and mostly unpredictable elements.
Although the diseases are progressive and cannot be totally cured, it is still essential to seek medical help as soon as the signs of dementia begin to show. With the correct treatment, people with dementia should be able to live independently and adapt to their new lifestyle for some time. For this reason we should all aim to know the signs of dementia so that we can recognise them as early as possible.
Loss of Short-Term Memory
The first and best known symptom of dementia is memory loss. Initially, people with the condition will have problems with short-term memory. For example, some people might be able to remember events, names and places from their childhood many years ago but unable to remember something that took place that same day. Other signs of short-term memory loss include frequently misplacing items, forgetting plans and forgetting why they walked into a room.
Difficulty Finding Words
Another early sign of dementia is an inability to find the right words or form a complete sentence. We all forget the occasional word from time to time but constantly forgetting simple words or replacing words with unusual, misplaced substitutes can be an indication that there is something wrong.
Due to the difficulty communicating thoughts and speaking, people living with dementia might struggle to join in with a conversation. They may pause a lot while talking, repeat themselves and struggle to follow what another person is saying.
The personality of someone with dementia can change drastically. It is likely that, at times, they will display unusual and irrational emotions such as feeling extreme anger, confusion, depression or anxiety. These rapid mood swings should definitely be treated as serious and anyone experiencing them should speak to their GP.
Inability to Complete Normal Tasks
For people living with dementia, everyday tasks which are usually very straightforward can become incredibly difficult to complete. For example, they may forget how to prepare a simple meal or become unable to dress themselves. If familiar everyday tasks start to become confusing or disorientating, this may be one of the signs of dementia in its early stages.
In the early stages of dementia, a person may become less able to make good judgements. Many patients with the condition find that their decision making abilities change drastically, they may make poor judgments when managing their money or struggle with their personal hygiene.
Loss of Direction
Direction is one of the senses that may deteriorate as the symptoms of dementia develop. People with dementia are likely to get lost in familiar spaces and they may struggle to recognise landmarks which are well known to them.
Due to this loss of awareness, many people in the early stages of dementia lose their belongings and are unable to retrace their steps to find them again. In some cases they may accuse others of stealing from them or become agitated believing they are in a strange place.
Where to Get Help
Even if you (or someone you’re close to) are experiencing a few of the symptoms listed here, that does not necessarily mean that it is dementia. However, as early diagnosis is crucial when it comes to making dementia manageable, it is a good idea to make an appointment with a GP as soon as possible if there is any cause for concern.
For those already living with a diagnosis of dementia, there are plenty of places in and around East Berkshire which can provide additional support. This directory of dementia services in Richmond is a great place to start as it has been designed to give patients and their loved ones with information on all the useful services available to them.
For more information on dementia, please visit the NHS Choices pages.