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Signs of dementia

 signs of dementia

Dementia is a common condition that usually occurs in people over the age of 65 and affects around 850,000 people in the UK. Due to the varying types of dementia and the many changes we go through as we age, it can often be difficult to notice the early signs, especially if you don't actually know what they are. So to help shed some light on this condition, here is some vital information on the signs and symptoms of dementia and what to do if you're experiencing them.

 

General symptoms and signs of dementia | Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease | Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies | Symptoms of mixed dementia | Symptoms of vascular dementia | Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia | Symptoms in the later stages of dementia

 

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What is dementia?

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain. It's a term used to describe a range of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia. There are five main types of dementia: Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, mixed dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.

 

General symptoms and signs of dementia

"I was under the impression that this was reasonably normal later in life, but I'm beginning to worry." 

Everyone can struggle with their memory from time to time but if you're worried that memory loss is affecting your daily life, it may be worth approaching your GP. While dementia cannot be cured, its progression can be slowed down if detected early so it's important to speak to your doctor if you think you might be experiencing the early symptoms of dementia. 

Your GP will also be able to go through the steps of early dementia diagnosis with you, an important first stage in getting treatment and care. Early signs of dementia and general symptoms can include:

 

  • Difficulty concentrating, planning and problem-solving
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Behaviour changes
  • Occasional mental confusion 
  • Depression

 

Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, affecting 62% of those diagnosed. Because it is progressive, the symptoms tend to change over time and become more severe, which is why the early stages of dementia are often mild and may go unnoticed.

It is also worth remembering that people experience this condition in different ways and that the symptoms vary from person to person. Atypical Alzheimer's disease works differently again, but is uncommon in those diagnosed when they are over 65.

For the majority of dementia sufferers, a common symptom is memory problems. Long-term memories are usually unaffected by the condition in its earlier stages. 

Memory loss due to Alzheimer's may interfere with a person's daily life in the following ways:

 

  • Forgetting someone's name
  • Losing items around the house
  • Getting lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
  • Forgetting appointments, anniversaries or recent conversations

 

Alzheimer's may also produce a change in mood or personality. A person can become anxious, irritable, depressed, withdrawn and even lose interest in activities and hobbies.

Mood changes, as well as memory loss, are usually the earliest Alzheimer's disease symptoms, but someone with the condition may eventually have difficulty with other aspects of thinking, perception or communication. They might struggle with:

 

  • Language, particularly repetition
  • Visuospatial skills – problems judging distance or seeing objects in 3D
  • Orientation – losing track of the day or date
  • Concentrating, making decisions, planning or organising
  • Numbers or handling money in shops

 

Symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) accounts for around 10-15% of all dementia cases and is often mistaken for Alzheimer's disease as the symptoms are similar.

Lewy bodies are also the cause of Parkinson's disease and one-third of those diagnosed with Parkinson's go on to develop dementia. The symptoms of dementia with Lewy bodies may also include:

 

  • Periods of alertness or drowsiness
  • Fluctuating levels of confusion
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Slower physical movements

 


Discussion: Caring for people with dementia


 

Symptoms of mixed dementia

Around 10% of those with dementia have more than one type at the same time, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease with vascular dementia. The symptoms are therefore a mixture of both. 


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Symptoms of vascular dementia

Depending on the person and on which area of the brain has been damaged, the symptoms of vascular dementia can develop suddenly (for example after a stroke) or gradually over a period of time.

They will typically get worse in sudden steps, with stable periods lasting months or years in between. Some people with vascular dementia may also have similar symptoms to Alzheimer's. Early warning signs may include:

 

  • Trouble with language and slowness of thought
  • Difficulty following a series of steps (e.g. cooking a meal)
  • Problems with attention and concentration, including short periods of sudden confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Finding it difficult to walk and keep balance
  • Apathy, depression or anxiety
  • Memory loss
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Paralysis on one side of the body (following a stroke)

 

Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia

This type of dementia affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain (the front and sides). It often starts at a younger age and diagnosis usually occurs in people aged 50-65.

The symptoms typically include changes in personality and behaviour, which may make the person with dementia less sensitive to other people's feelings. The person may also:

 

  • Have problems with thinking
  • Lose some of their inhibitions and become much more impulsive
  • Become uninterested and lack initiative
  • Experience language difficulties, i.e. not speaking, speaking less than usual or having trouble finding the right words

 

Symptoms in the later stages of dementia

Later dementia symptoms will depend on the person and on the type of dementia they have, but severe memory loss, communication problems, mobility difficulties and incontinence are the most common, which means that the person may require constant care and attention. Here is a breakdown of the main symptoms:

 

  • Memory - not recognising close family and friends or knowing where they are
  • Cognitive behavioural difficulties - finding it impossible carry out basic tasks
  • Communication - difficulty with speech (they may lose their ability to speak altogether)
  • Mobility issues
  • Incontinence
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Problems with eating and swallowing food

 

You can also see our tips on things you can do to reduce the risk of developing dementia. But for more in-depth information on dementia stages, the different types, treatment and early diagnosis and care visit the NHS, Alzheimer's Society, Dementia UK and Age UK websites.  
 

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