Early signs of dementiaPosted on: 19 March 2016 by 50connect editorial
How to spot the signs of Alzheimer's and dementia and support your loved ones
A BBC news story a couple of weeks ago reported on a study looking at how the behaviour of dogs could help us understand how dementia develops in older people. Although there is a lot more work to do, it’s encouraging to see that, bit by bit, we’re taking steps to understand the condition better.
New research also indicates that signs of Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia, could be detected up to twenty years before it actually takes effect in the person. This could mean that in the future doctors will be able to predict the disease in people early enough to take the necessary steps - such as lifestyle changes or medication - to slow the condition down, or prevent it taking hold.
We asked the team at telmenow.com to share some of the early signs to look out for in your loved ones, as well as some helpful advice for family or friends who want to keep their relatives safe in their own homes.
Firstly, it’s important to know the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia. While the two terms are used interchangeably because they’re very closely linked, it can be confusing for those diagnosed to differentiate between the two.
Dementia affects communication and a person’s ability to carry out daily activities but is more of an umbrella term. Dementia is categorised as a brain disorder which has a variety of causes including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or brain injuries. Alzheimer’s is a disease which is caused by damage to the part of the brain which controls thought, memory and language.
The early signs of dementia are sometimes referred to as cognitive impairment. This is to do with the brain’s inability to recall information as quickly as it has done previously.
Because it often starts subtly, it can be difficult to determine if someone has the condition. As the brain becomes more damaged however, it works less well over time and further symptoms of dementia begin to surface.
It’s important to speak to a doctor as soon as you notice any changes in behaviour so they can try to slow the development of any of the causes of dementia.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Dementia is a progressive condition so signs and symptoms will change over time. That said, there are a number of signs which are common and should be on everyone’s radar.
This can often be an unhelpful symptom to describe since we all forget things, whether we have dementia or not. But it’s when this forgetfulness becomes a habit and happens regularly that we could be looking at the early signs of the condition. Losing things frequently, or repeating yourself several times, may be an indication of the illness.
Struggling to find the right words
In a similar way to forgetfulness, throughout our lives we occasionally struggle to recall the word we’re looking for, but this occurs much more frequently with someone with dementia and starts to disrupt their daily life.
Someone with dementia may also start to get confused or muddled whilst performing everyday tasks such as cooking a meal, getting dressed or making their way to a place they know, or have been to before.
Withdrawal from work or hobbies
More than simply feeling tired of work or social obligations, someone with dementia may start to avoid the social activities they’ve previously enjoyed because they find it difficult to keep up with the interaction involved.
You may notice some slight changes in your loved one’s personality. They may start lashing out, either physically or verbally and it can sometimes be hard to see the person you know underneath. The key thing to remember here is that angry or erratic behaviour is most often caused by anxiety and frustration. It’s also not uncommon for people with dementia to suffer from depression so it’s important to keep a look out for signs of this.
What to do if this sounds like someone you know
First of all, if you think this sounds like a friend or family member don’t assume that they’ve already spoken to their GP. Ask the question and offer to go along with them.
If a loved one has just been diagnosed with dementia and you want to know how you can help, take a look through these steps below:
Try to stick to their existing routine as much as possible
Try to keep things as normal as possible. If they’ve always had breakfast at 7am, or shaved every two days, don’t change this routine. Keeping things in as recognisable a pattern as possible will help to keep their anxiety levels down.
Offer reassurance and be patient
It can be upsetting and frustrating caring for a loved one with dementia. But recognising when it might be best not to correct someone can be really important. While you may want to point out that you’ve told them something several times already, or that you saw them yesterday and not two weeks ago as they suggest, from their perspective this is the case, so listening and providing reassurance can be the most helpful thing.
Making the right preparations
We’re passionate at telmenow.com about helping people to stay independent for as long as possible, and by taking certain measures this can be achieved. Thankfully, there are now a wide range of technologies and aids available for people living with dementia. Everything from GPS alarms, to gas and flood detectors can help give you and your loved one reassurance when learning to live with condition.
Seek advice from your GP and organisations such as Dementia UK to find out what support, both emotional and technological, is out there and how it could make a difference.
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