Dementia is an illness affecting the brain, leading to memory loss and declining mental and cognitive abilities. Losing oneself is extremely traumatic and spotting the signs of dementia early can help us to slow its progression and relieve stress on ourselves and our loved ones.
For instance, Uncle N, who has dementia, wakes up at four in the morning and insists on leaving the house. He finds it hard to explain why he wants to leave the house. This may sound frustrating, but learning to spot the early signs of dementia will make it easier to understand him and respond with love and compassion.
Here are six early signs of dementia that you can keep a look out for.
Sign 1: Short-term memory loss
Notable and rapid memory loss in dementia patients is caused by physical changes in the brain, with cells dying at a faster rate than normal.
Distinguish between typical ageing from dementia by keeping an eye out for frequent pausing when searching for words or a striking decline in memory for recent events. Uncle N may have difficulty remembering recent conversations but can remember what happened when he was younger. By chatting with him, you might even learn a thing or two about his childhood!
Sign 2: Misplacing things often
We all misplace things, but Uncle N may leave belongings in unusual places (like the fridge) and is unable to retrace his steps. In such situations, placate and help him to solve the problem, like telling him that you will help to search for the lost item.
Sign 3: Lose their way easily
Sense of direction and spatial orientation usually worsen during the early onset of dementia. Uncle N may often forget how he arrived at a location or where he currently is. Try finding the reason behind his behaviour, such as his past profession or habits.
Sign 4: Trouble making plans or decisions
Uncle N may experience difficulty in concentrating and may take a longer time to complete things than before. This change may gradually affect his lifestyle as he finds it harder to make plans or decisions.
You know your loved one best, so respond to them accordingly. For example, if Uncle N has a stubborn character, forcing him to make a decision won’t work. Practise patience and guide him through the process instead.
Sign 5: Changes in mood
It may feel as if a switch is present in Uncle N’s mind. Each time it clicks, his attention either switches to something else or he abruptly forgets why he’s in that moment and become upset. Confusion, anxiety, anger and fear are common emotions a dementia patient may experience. Take baby steps and slowly learn to recognise the situations that may upset them.
Sign 6: Withdrawal
The confusion and fear that Uncle N is experiencing may result in withdrawal, such as a refusal to go out as he used to. While you may be tempted to force him to get out of the house, consider the underlying causes of this change.
The best solution may be to seek professional medical help. Sometimes, however, a little white lie works wonders (like enticing Uncle N with his favourite food) when getting him to go out or to see the doctor.
It’s been widely documented that giving dementia patients the respect they deserve helps best. Feeling understood is crucial to everybody’s well-being, and an improved understanding of a dementia patient’s actions will improve your attitudes and responses towards them.