As our loved ones get older, it can be easy to dismiss forgetfulness as nothing more than an unavoidable effect of ageing. Whilst instances of absent-mindedness can of course be normal, Gracewell Healthcare understands that it is important to be vigilant and stay aware of the warning signs that can point to something more serious.
What is dementia?
The word dementia refers to a group of symptoms – whilst memory loss is one, confusion, mood changes and communication difficulties can also all arise. A general term for a decline in mental ability, dementia can impact how people feel, act and go about their daily activities, as well as their general health. Worldwide, nearly 4.4 million people live with dementia, including 850,000 in the UK alone - making it one of the most common health issues among those aged 65 and over. Whilst changes may be small at first, Alzheimer’s usually progresses slowly in three general stages – mild (early), moderate (middle) and severe (late stage).
What is Alzheimer’s?
Whilst the terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are often used interchangeably, Alzheimer’s is in fact a form of dementia, accounting for roughly 60-80 per cent of all dementia diagnoses. Affecting the brain with changes that go beyond the usual ageing process, it causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour, with symptoms developing slowly and worsening over time.
What are common early symptoms of dementia?
There are different types of dementia that can affect people in different ways, and people will of course experience symptoms in their own individual way. However, it is useful to know about common early symptoms that can show before a final diagnosis of dementia is made.
Whilst “mild cognitive impairment” can display in many older adults who experience less serious symptoms that cannot be diagnosed in dementia, severe symptoms are not a normal part of ageing and must be taken seriously.
Someone who has dementia may forget things, from important facts to daily tasks, more often or not remember them at all. This can present in different ways: someone may struggle to remember recent events but have no problem remembering things that happened long ago, they may forget the names of friends or everyday objects or leave objects in unusual places, such as keys in the fridge.
Living with dementia may affect someone’s ability to find their way to a familiar environment and feel confused about the time and place they are currently in.
Speed of thought, language or behaviour
Dementia can affect the time it takes someone to speak, grasp language or go about their daily tasks. They may find it difficult to follow conversations between others or TV shows, lose their train of thought and the trail of what they are saying themselves, or have problems with thinking or reasoning. This can also affect writing skills – some people may find that their spelling, punctuation and grammar is worsening, whilst their handwriting can become more difficult to read.
Poor spatial skills
Things which may seem obvious at first when it comes to personal judgement of the relations between objects and space can become more difficult for someone with dementia. For example, they may have trouble when driving a car and judging distance or direction.
Changes in personality and mood
A person living with dementia may experience personality changes or mood swings, something which can be easily recognised by a loved one or close relative. They may become more irritable, angry or sad, or display intense signs of fear or anxiety. In some cases, people can display a loss of inhibition or inappropriate behaviour. This can be a confusing and scary time for any person, so it is important to understand that their general mood and feelings can be affected.
What can be done?
If you or a loved one is displaying one or a combination of these or similar symptoms, it is important to visit a GP for an assessment as soon as possible. Whilst there is no single test for dementia, a diagnosis can then be made by a professional based on a combination of things, including a physical examination and tests, tests of mental abilities and brain scans.
Gracewell Healthcare specialises in providing high-quality and personalised dementia care to support the individual needs of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Our specialist ‘Reminiscence’ neighbourhoods are designed to offer tailored support to individuals in a warm and welcoming environment where they can live in peace and dignity.
If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with dementia, contact Gracewell Healthcare to find out more about how we can help, or visit your nearest Gracewell Healthcare.