With increased dementia awareness, brought about in part from years of campaigns like Dementia Action Week and Dementia Friends, more people than ever before knowing something about dementia and how it begins. With that knowledge, however, often comes the worry that we might be developing dementia ourselves or that someone we love is.
Accurate information about the early signs of dementia is vital to help individuals and families be better equipped for what they are experiencing. The symptoms of dementia are many and varied, and can relate to other conditions like depression and delirium, so a formal diagnosis is essential.
Do all people experience dementia in the same way?
Dementia is an umbrella term for the 100+ different types of dementia. Four types of dementia are listed below with common symptoms that are associated with them, but bear in mind that around 10 percent of people have mixed dementia. This is often – but not always – a combination of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, so you may see a blend of symptoms.
No two people will experience their type of dementia in exactly the same way, so the following information is provided as a guide only.
Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease
The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is usually problems with memory, which may include forgetting recent events or conversations, or difficulty recalling the names of places or people.
The person may also:
• Have difficulties with learning new things.
• Struggle to recall where they have left items around the house, get lost in an otherwise familiar place or not recognise previously known landmarks on a journey.
• Have problems managing their diary or regularly lose track of the day or date.
• Begin to repeat themselves or struggle to concentrate on a conversation or TV programme.
• Have difficulties with their visuospatial skills – IE: they may struggle with stairs/steps or judging distances when crossing the road or driving.
• Have problems sequencing tasks like cooking or making a drink.
• Experience changes to their mood, perhaps becoming depressed, anxious or more easily upset, and lose interest in doing things they previously enjoyed.
Early signs of vascular dementia
Memory loss is usually less common in the early stages of vascular dementia, but some symptoms are similar to other types of dementia.
The person may:
• Have problems with organisation, decision-making or problem-solving, and generally have slower thought processes.
• Experience difficulties concentrating and be more confused at some times than others.
• Struggle with language and contribute less to conversations.
• Have problems with mood or become more emotional. Depression is common if the person has some insight into the changes they are experiencing.
The person may also have some of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, like problems sequencing tasks and visuospatial issues. In addition, because of the links between vascular dementia and stroke , the person may have physical symptoms from a stroke like paralysis.
Vascular dementia itself is an umbrella term, with some symptoms being more associated with certain types of vascular dementia. Find out more from the Alzheimer’s Society.
Early signs of dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)
There are links between dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and an individual with DLB is likely to have some symptoms of all three conditions.
The person may:
• Have visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there). These may happen regularly and vary in length and intensity. They are often distressing.
• Sleep disturbances. These might begin years before the person is diagnosed, and can include increased daytime napping and disturbed night-time sleep (perhaps with nightmares).
• Problems with movement, similar to those experienced by people with Parkinson’s, making the person more at risk of falls.
• A reduced attention-span which can fluctuate during the day.
• Problems with visuospatial issues as with Alzheimer’s.
• Issues with organising, planning and making decisions.
• Problems with mood and depression.
• Some memory loss is common but usually not as pronounced as that seen in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Early signs of frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
People with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) commonly experience changes in personality, behaviour and language – memory is less affected.
There are different types of FTD depending on which areas of the frontal or temporal lobes (parts of the brain) are affected. Each type has specific symptoms, which are helpfully broken down into sections by the Alzheimer’s Society.
What to do if you think you or someone you love is developing a type of dementia
If you believe you or someone you know is showing some of the signs and symptoms of a type of dementia, it’s important that you speak to a GP. A GP can conduct some simple tests, like a basic memory assessment and blood tests. They can also make a referral for a scan and/or a Memory Clinic appointment or other appointment with a specialist, to investigate further and provide the answers you and your family need.
Finding out what is causing any symptoms you are concerned about will help the person with these symptoms to live as well as possible and enable better planning for the future.
Find out more about how ENA Care Group could support you or your family by calling 0800 4334 413 or emailing .