Dementia is a term that describes a variety of symptoms affecting a person’s cognitive functioning, including their ability to think, remember, and reason. It tends to get worse over time, and there are a few key early warning signs.
It is easy to overlook the first signs of dementia. Most of us expect our cognitive abilities to somewhat decline with age. However, dementia is not a normal element of aging. What should raise concerns?
- Problems with short-term memory, i.e. what happened recently, a moment ago. A person with dementia may, for example, repeat the same question several times or be unable to recall what she did just a while ago.
- A significant change in personality and behavior. A person with dementia can have a very changeable mood, display anxiety or depression. Once sociable, a person can become reserved and secretive, withdraw from meetings with friends, and an introvert may suddenly start to eagerly approach strangers.
- Getting lost in well-known places. It’s common for a person living with dementia to walk about, become lost or confused about their location, and it can happen at any stage of the disease.
- Losing the sense of time, eg frequently confusing days of the week or times of the day. Dementia can make it hard to judge the passing of time. People may also forget the sequence of events. They may find it hard to understand events in the future or the past and may struggle with dates.
- Frequently losing things and putting them in the wrong places. A person with dementia may not be able to remember where they left everyday objects, such as a remote control, important documents, cash, or their keys. Misplacing possessions can be frustrating and may lead to accusing other people of stealing.
- New problems in communication, e.g. difficulty finding words. Getting lost in the middle of a sentence or using wrong words. A person with dementia may find it hard to engage in conversations. They may forget what they are saying or what somebody else has said. It can be difficult to engage in a conversation. People may also find their spelling, punctuation, and grammar get worse. Some people’s handwriting becomes more difficult to read.
- Difficulties in performing complex tasks that once did not cause a problem. A person with dementia may find it difficult to complete tasks they regularly do, such as changing settings on a television, operating a computer, making a cup of tea, or getting to a familiar location. This difficulty with familiar tasks could happen at home or work.
- Difficulties in solving problems and planning, which show in problems with managing everyday challenges, like planning a trip or handling personal finances. A person with dementia may find it difficult to follow a plan, such as a recipe when cooking, or directions when driving.
- Decreased ability to judge. It can be hard for someone with dementia to understand what is appropriate and reasonable. This may mean that they pay too much for things, or become easily convinced to buy things they do not need. Some people with dementia also may pay less attention to their outfit, hygiene or start dressing inappropriately to weather conditions.
Importantly – in normal aging such difficulties may appear from time to time (everyone has a worse day sometimes!), but if they persist and worsen over time, it may be a sign of dementia.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has signs of dementia, consult your concerns with a specialist as soon as possible. The faster you get the right treatment and support, the more effective they will be.