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Spot the signs of dementia early on

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Dementia is one of the cruellest conditions any of us may come across in our lives. Like most other diseases, however, it’s possible to identify early signs and symptoms to help you and your loved ones prepare for what lies ahead.

Whether you are directly affected by it in later life or you have an older loved one living with it now, having dementia is often a confusing and alienating experience. As a degenerative condition, it has a tendency to creep up on us slowly, making it a bit harder to spot early on.

Of course, the circumstances will be different for every individual, which can make it even more difficult to notice the signs in ourselves and our loved ones. Here we take a little dive into the nature of dementia and the possible early warning signs to watch out for.

Early signs of dementia

One of the first concerns you might have around dementia will generally be a feeling that all is not as it normally should be. You may notice slight changes in a loved one’s behaviour or appearance. This can include regularly becoming confused in familiar places, forgetting important appointments or mistakenly dressing in dirty clothes for multiple days.

Forgetfulness is an extremely common aspect of getting older, so it’s easy to attribute isolated incidents of memory loss to a person’s age. We can all misremember things from time to time but not all of us will go on to develop dementia. However, it should become a cause for concern when such incidents gradually build and become more frequent.

Other early indictors of dementia can include personality changes and physical dexterity. Memory problems can lead to a person becoming more irritable, confused or even depressed. They may find it harder to keep track of a conversation or follow simple instructions and directions.

Becoming disoriented in normally familiar environments is a telltale sign that all is not as it should be. Forgetting where certain objects are around the home may be a mild indicator of cognitive impairment. However, a loved one finding that they no longer recognise where they are or what time of day it is will be a greater cause for concern.

Are daytime naps as a possible factor?

A recent study has found that older adults who take regular naps during the daytime could be more likely to develop dementia later on. Researchers determined that people were 40% more likely to experience the condition after snoozing for more than an hour on a regular basis.

Further to this, the frequency and duration of daytime naps began to increase in those who had developed Alzheimer’s disease. The study’s lead author, Dr. Peng Li, said: “faster yearly increase in daytime napping may be a sign of deteriorating or clinical progression of the disease.”

As daytime sleeping is fairly common amongst older people, it’s easy to dismiss as “just another aspect of ageing”. However, whilst not a definitive indicator of dementia, it may be an important point to take note of in case a loved one’s mental state begins to decline.

Distinguishing between ageing and dementia symptoms

It’s a bit of a blurred line trying to identify the difference between what may be a normal aspect of ageing and what may be a more serious concern. Of course, it’s fairly common to nod off in the middle of the day or forget why you’ve walked into a room. Occasionally being forgetful, distracted and unfocused are often common aspects of getting older.

This is usually nothing to be worried about, particularly if you can still recall recent events and retain social skills. It may simply be the case that you or a loved one has slower recall and needs to pause for a moment to remember certain memories and find certain words in conversation. However, it’s when these occurrences become more frequent in day-to-day life that the alarm bells should start ringing.

Issues with memory recall on a daily basis, struggles with speech and language, and difficulty in recognising familiar objects can all be signifiers of mild cognitive impairment. This is a sort of intermediary stage between typical ageing and the early stages of dementia.

While the signs and symptoms of dementia will largely be very similar, the person affected will likely still be able to maintain a sense of their own independence and handle themselves well in social situations. It’s estimated that mild cognitive impairment can occur in around 5% – 20% of older people, with the possibility of dementia developing later on.

What to do if you suspect someone has dementia

At this mild cognitive impairment stage, it’s important for your loved one to consult with their GP and make regular appointments to keep an eye on their mental state. Their doctor will be able to make a more informed assessment over a period of time and even decide to refer them to a neurological specialist if there is increasing cause for concern.

In a lot of cases, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment doesn’t usually get worse; it can remain stable for a long time and may even improve for some people. However, a proportion of those with MCI can go on to develop dementia so it’s important to put support strategies in place to assist loved ones who are affected.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia at present. As a degenerative condition affecting nerve cells in the brain, it cannot be reversed once diagnosed. There are, however, various ways to treat dementia to help the patient continue living as normal a life as possible. This makes it easier to get on top of by noticing it as early as possible.

Alongside treatments, getting the right level of personal care for someone living with dementia can be a massive help to you and your loved one. SureCare teams across the UK are able to deliver specialist dementia support services with a compassionate approach at our core.

Get in touch with your nearest SureCare team today to find out more information about how we can help you.