Dementia is a word we are all familiar with, but do we really understand what it means? If you have had limited exposure to dementia, your views of it are likely to have been shaped by how it is portrayed on the screen, in books, or in the media, and it is often the later stages of dementia that are featured.
You may already be caring for someone with dementia, or you may have concerns that a loved one is exhibiting potential symptoms.
But to provide the best care and support both before and after a dementia diagnosis, it is important to understand how it manifests itself in the early stages.
A word of caution
Dementia is not actually a disease itself. It’s a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the brain. The damage is caused by different diseases and the symptoms differ according to the part of the brain that is damaged.
As is the case with many other cognitive impaired conditions, no two people will have the same effects or symptoms.
And whilst there are several symptoms that are common in the early stages, many might be caused by something other than dementia so be cautious of jumping to conclusions.
However, dementia is not a natural part of aging, so it is important to reach out to your GP should you have concerns. Monitor and record symptoms so you have a medical history to share as this can help with a diagnosis.
What to look out for
Impairment to memory, communication, and focus, changes in mood, emotions, and personality, can all be commonplace in the early stages of dementia. It is helpful to be aware of how these symptoms might present:
Memory and cognitive changes
- Subtle memory loss can be an early symptom of dementia, with short term memory often impacted.
- This can mean someone in the early stages of dementia can’t remember what they had to eat that day but are able to recall events from many years ago. Or are not able to recall what they have come into a particular room for, or remember where they left an everyday item such as keys or glasses.
- Another symptom is struggling to complete normal tasks or follow step-by-step instructions.
- Struggles with communication and understanding can be another early symptom.
- This may result in people having difficulty finding the right words for what they want to say or struggling to follow a conversation or on-screen plot.
- This confusion occurs because dementia can cause people to forget the meanings of some words or phrases or be able to recall common reference points.
- This means conversations with a person with dementia can take a long time, be incohesive, frustrating and difficult to manage.
- It can also cause an inability to recall people’s faces, buildings or locations which can make them more likely to get lost or confused.
- This can be frightening and isolating for the person experiencing symptoms as well as worrying and concerning for their loved ones.
- Poor judgment can be another early symptom of dementia. Judgement affects the way people make decisions and this symptom can present itself as a personality change.
- This can mean a person in the early stages of dementia may have difficulty in recognising how to behave in accordance with normal social boundaries and etiquette. For example, they may behave with extreme shyness or gregariousness which can cause embarrassment and distress to others present.
- Or they may be unable to recognise danger and so may put themselves in situations where they may come to harm such as navigating busy traffic as a pedestrian or as a driver.
- Or they may change their attitude to personal hygiene and so may wash less frequently or take less care of their physical appearance.
- Impaired judgement can also invariably mean resistance to well-intentioned suggestions from a loved one which can also be met with frustration, confusion and sometimes anger.
- People in the early stages of dementia may also experience apathy and a general withdrawal from life, such as interest in hobbies to spending time with friends and family.
- Depression can be another early symptom of dementia.
How the right care can help
In the very early stages of dementia, many people can enjoy life in the same way they did prior to their diagnosis. But as symptoms get worse, a person with dementia feels confused more and more often and are unable to make sense of the world around them. This can cause them to feel isolated and frustrated and be angry at themselves or those around them but are unable to articulate why.
Witnessing and caring for a loved one who is navigating the symptoms of dementia can be upsetting, exhausting, and frequently feel overwhelming.
We provide exceptional live-in support for those diagnosed with Dementia. We are acutely aware of the importance of supporting our clients with Dementia to maintain skills, abilities, and an active social life. This is crucial in not only helping how they feel about themselves, helping to reduce behaviours that are out of character but also provides reassurance to family members that their loved ones are being looked after. We also recognise that caring for someone with dementia can be exhausting and having a regular break or respite can be vital.