How can I tell if my loved one is showing signs of early dementia?

By Machaela Magennis, 7:12 am on

As we age, we can start to forget things. That is an unfortunate fact of life. But how can we tell the difference between natural memory loss as a result of ageing, and the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s?

Memory loss is one of the most common and early symptoms of ageing, dementia and Alzheimer’s, however it is not the only one. We will explain five (5) early signs of dementia. But please note, that one symptom does not necessarily signal the early stages of dementia. If you or your loved one demonstrates more than one symptom, it is worth making an appointment to see a Neurologist just to be sure.

  1. Vision problems. Changes in vision associated with dementia are quite common. This will affect one’s ability to read, to see differences in contrast and colour and to judge distances. These changes in vision can lead to further problems with driving, falls and bumping into objects. The obvious risks to health, safety and security are reason enough to seek attention if your loved one is experiencing problems with their eye sight. There are also simple solutions you can try in the home to help with vision issues, such as high visibility reflective tape on doorways or sharp edges of tables, painting steps in the home a different colour from the floor, and ensuring that lighting is adequate in the home.
  2. Problems with language. People with early stages of dementia can find it difficult to follow conversations, to write their thoughts down on paper or to find the right words to complete a sentence. Many of us have witnessed a loved one stop mid-sentence with no idea how to continue, or they change topics mid conversation with no obvious link to the previous conversation. People with dementia, though they try to find the right word, still cannot retrieve it. It really helps when we can help them remember the correct word. Your loved one may also repeat sentences or stories in a short period of time. This is because they can’t remember what they have said, so please be patient with them and let them tell you again.
  3. Poor judgment. Some of these changes in judgment may be fairly harmless, like asking a stranger for money or to sing a song. However, some changes in judgment may be more serious. For instance, if your loved one pays less attention to their personal hygiene this can lead to health issues, or if you find they are paying money to strangers for unusual items, this can lead to financial concerns. Having someone keep an eye on these sorts of matters is very important.
  4. Forgetting the seasons. People with dementia can easily forget the day, month, season and year so it is helpful to have a calendar readily accessible to remind them. How often have you heard a loved one with dementia asking after a friend or family member who has passed away, even years earlier? Time shrinks for people with dementia, as they live in the here and now. It is very important that our loved one understands the seasons and temperatures so that they can dress accordingly and heat or cool their home sufficiently.
  5. Social withdrawal. An unfortunate effect of dementia is withdrawing from family and social activities. Due to changes in vision, communication and overall mood, sometimes people with dementia find it hard to interact with others. Especially in the early stages of dementia when they know something has changed, sometimes your loved one can feel too embarrassed to socialise like they used to. Keeping our loved ones engaged with their friends and the community is so important, and mental and social stimulation can help to slow down the decline of cognitive activities.

Have you witnessed any of these stages of dementia in your loved ones? What was the best thing you did to help them through these early stages?

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