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How to spot the first signs of dementia

No-one likes to think about the possibility of themselves, or their loved ones experiencing the first signs of dementia. However, the disease is more common than we might like to think. Around 850,000m people are currently living with dementia in the UK right now. (LINK: Numbers of people in the UK – Dementia Statistics Hub) The numbers are set to increase, as those experiencing mild symptoms are diagnosed and added to the total statistics.

However, if you are concerned about the possibility of facing a dementia diagnosis, it can be easier to handle if you have got the right kind of information to hand. Here are some signs to look out for and tips to help you cope with the early days of worrying about dementia, thinking about options for home or residential care and coming to terms with a dementia diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms of early-stage dementia

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that are caused by damage to various areas of the brain. It can present differently in different people, but some of the more common initial signs are:

  • Memory loss, such as forgetting where things are, people’s names and faces or appointment times
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on familiar tasks, such as shopping, or morning routines
  • Finding it a struggle to follow a normal conversation or to find the right word or phrase for what you want to write or say
  • Asking questions repetitively and finding it hard to retain the answers provided
  • Becoming confused about the time of day or where you are, especially in unfamiliar places
  • Mood changes and swings that are out of character and sometimes extreme
  • Growing anxious or withdrawn
  • Personality changes, for example lessening sensitivity to other people’s feelings

These symptoms can start of mild and get worse over time. They can be missed at first, or put down to ageing, tiredness or dehydration. It can be a while before someone takes them seriously enough to go to the doctor to get checked out. It is best to talk to a medical expert sooner, rather than later, as there are medications and therapies that can help slow the process of the condition. Especially if it is caught at an earlier stage.

Symptoms of more advanced stages dementia

The early-stage symptoms described above will worsen as the condition progresses. Additionally, the person may experience increasing problems with mobility and communication. These can be assisted with various mobility aids and non-verbal communications devices. There may be issues with bladder control and incontinence later on, or with eating and swallowing. These can all be helped in a residential care setting, as well as by community nurses and medical professionals. Other developments can be around behaviour and psychological symptoms. This can include hallucinations, anxiety, depression, wandering and aggression.

Planning ahead

It is a good idea to discuss options with the person with dementia for when their condition progresses to the more serious stages while they are still able to take an active part in decision-making. Decisions can include living arrangements and when to move to residential care, arrangements for any children or dependents still living in the household, financial management and power of attorney, healthcare preferences and instructions – such as whether the person would like to be resuscitated in the event of a life-threatening medical emergency – not to mention writing a Will and making funeral arrangements.

While this can all be distressing to talk about, doing so at an earlier stage will save a lot of indecision and heartbreak further down the line. A solicitor can help with the legal side of putting power of attorney arrangements in place and in drafting a Will. Specialist counsellors and advisors are also available to help people cope with the emotional side of their diagnosis, or that of their loved one.

Finally, try to think about how you can help those around you or your loved one come to terms with a dementia diagnosis. Some people like to write letters or make films for their loved ones to read or watch when the dementia has progressed too far for them to enjoy a meaningful conversation. This can be a difficult task, but results are often cherished by loved ones.

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