While there is currently no cure for dementia, an early diagnosis can help slow down its progression in some cases, allowing individuals to maintain their mental functions for a longer period of time. A timely diagnosis enables individuals to access appropriate treatment, receive necessary support, and helps loved ones to prepare for the future. Contrary to popular belief that dementia primarily affects the elderly, it can develop in individuals as young as 30.
The Alzheimer’s Society has identified six key early warning signs people should be vigilant about. These signs are often subtle and not always easy to notice, but being aware of them can make a significant difference.
Memory loss is perhaps the most well-known initial symptom of dementia. Individuals may struggle to remember simple things like where they placed their car keys within their own home. The Alzheimer’s Society says: “Memory loss is often the first and main symptom in early Alzheimer’s disease. It is also seen, although less often, in early vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB).”
Difficulties in Thinking and Planning
Becoming increasingly confused and finding it challenging to make plans are early warning signs to watch out for. This may include difficulties in managing finances, solving problems, or even planning family outings.
Language and Communication Issues
People with dementia may experience difficulty finding the right words during conversations or have trouble comprehending what others are saying. In cases of vascular dementia following a stroke, speech can also be affected.
Getting Lost Easily
A person with dementia may struggle to recognise familiar places and become easily disoriented, even in environments they have known well for years.
Problems with visual perception can lead to difficulties in judging distances, such as navigating stairs. These issues are more commonly observed in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and DLB compared to vascular dementia or frontotemporal dementia (FTD). It is important to note that these difficulties are distinct from visual hallucinations.
Changes in Mood or Emotion
Dementia can significantly impact a person’s mood and emotions. Individuals may become more anxious, fearful, or sad, putting them at risk of developing depression. Irritability and increased sensitivity are also common, often stemming from frustration due to declining abilities. Additionally, individuals may exhibit withdrawal, lack self-confidence, and lose interest in hobbies and social interactions.
Bernadette Mossman, from Vida Healthcare, said: “Dementia is a syndrome associated with a decline in cognitive function and ability to remember that impairs daily living, to a point where a person is no longer independent.
“Not only are there several different types of dementia [over 200 subtypes] but symptoms can vary from person to person, which can make it tricky to spot. However, there are some common signs that you should be aware of. Appropriate approaches can still ensure people living with dementia live well and have a good quality of life.”
Research indicates there are currently more than 944,000 people in the UK living with dementia. In fact, one in 11 people over the age of 65 in the UK is affected by this condition, and the number is expected to rise due to longer life expectancies. By 2030, it is estimated that the number of individuals with dementia will surpass one million.
Recognising the early warning signs of dementia is crucial for timely intervention and support. By staying informed and vigilant, individuals and their loved ones can take proactive steps towards managing the condition and maintaining a good quality of life.
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