Dementia: Asking for a friend
Written by Kate Smith
, 7 min read
The more we understand about dementia, the better. From learning what signs to look out for to understanding how we can support people with dementia, Dr Kate encourages us all to become Dementia Friends.
In this blog, Dr Kate looks at different types of dementia, typical symptoms, why early diagnosis and raising awareness are so important and how to seek help if you are worried about symptoms in yourself or a loved one.
What is dementia?
‘Dementia’ is a term that covers a set of diseases that cause damage to the brain, resulting in a collection of symptoms. People who are diagnosed with dementia may have different symptoms from each other depending on which areas of the brain are affected.
Two of the most common diseases causing dementia are Alzheimer’s disease (caused by ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ interrupting the connection between nerve cells) and Vascular Dementia (caused by reduced blood supply to the brain due to diseased blood vessels).
Other diseases causing dementia include Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Frontotemporal Dementia. The chances of developing dementia increase significantly with increasing age, however ‘young onset Dementia’ refers to someone with dementia under the age of 65.1
Worldwide, more than 50 million people have dementia, around 5-8% of the population aged 60 or over. This number is increasing as we are living longer lives and is projected to reach 1 million in the UK and 7.1 million in the USA by 2025.2-4
Ten common early symptoms of dementia
The most common symptoms that often come to mind when thinking about dementia are problems with memory, however there are usually a range of symptoms experienced. Dementia symptoms are not a normal part of ageing. Let’s look at 10 of the main early symptoms of dementia and how they might differ from typical age-related changes.1-3,5,6
Sign 1: Memory loss that affects day to day life
This might include struggling to retain recently learned information or frequently forgetting things like important dates or events.
Compared to a typical age-related change: occasionally forgetting something like an appointment or someone’s name but then remembering it afterwards.
Sign 2: Difficulties planning or solving problems
For example, experiencing challenges making or following a plan or working with numbers - such as following a recipe or consistently struggling to keep track of bills.
Compared to a typical age-related change: missing a payment occasionally.
Sign 3: Challenges completing familiar tasks
For example, difficulty driving somewhere familiar or making a shopping list.
Compared to a typical age-related change: sometimes needing help working settings on a microwave or other appliance.
Sign 4: Disorientation over time and place
Examples include losing track of which season or month it is, or forgetting where you are or how you got there, even if it’s somewhere usually familiar.
Compared to a typical age-related change: forgetting which day of the week it is but remembering later on.
Sign 5: Difficulty with visual images and spatial relationships
This may include problems with vision, which can lead to issues with balance or the ability to read. There can also be issues with colour or contrast, such as thinking a black doormat is a hole in the floor.
Compared to a typical age-related change: changes in vision due to another reason such as cataracts.
Sign 6: Problems with words: spoken or written
For example, difficulty in holding a conversation, perhaps stopping in the middle, the person repeating themselves or switching one word for another such as calling a football a ‘kick-ball’.
Compared to a typical age-related change: forgetting the occasional word to use in a sentence.
Sign 7: Misplacing things and can’t retrace steps to find them
Examples include putting objects in unusual places and not able to find them again (e.g. an iron in the freezer) or the person may accuse someone of stealing items, particularly as symptoms progress.
Compared to a typical age-related change: losing something occasionally.
Sign 8: Changes in judgement or decision-making ability
This might include less care taken with money or personal hygiene, or perhaps wearing a coat in summer.
Compared to a typical age-related change: an occasional bad decision or mistake.
Sign 9: Withdrawal from social activities and work
Signs may include withdrawing from usual hobbies or social or work engagements due to difficulties in being able to follow and contribute to conversations. The person may also become passive and disinterested unless encouraged by others to join in.
Compared to a typical age-related change: sometimes feeling uninterested in joining in work or social activities.
Sign 10: Changes in mood, personality or behaviour
For example, the person becoming confused, depressed, anxious, suspicious or scared, or being easily upset or having mood swings or quite striking changes in their personality. (These symptoms can also be due to other illnesses.)
Compared to a typical age-related change: having specific ways of doing things or following a set routine.
These 10 signs are some of the most common dementia symptoms, however different types of diseases that cause symptoms of dementia will include other signs not listed here.
You could also try these puzzles to get an idea of what it might feel like to have symptoms of dementia: https://www.babylonhealth.com/c/understanding-dementia/
Some of the risk factors for dementia aren’t things you can change, but there are some potentially modifiable risk factors you may find useful.7
Why is it important to raise awareness?
Early diagnosis is really important to allow those with symptoms of dementia to be considered for treatment aimed at slowing its progression and to get the right support in place. It also allows for planning and adapting, for both the person with dementia and their loved ones, in order to ensure the person can live a full and independent life for as long as possible. It’s important to remember that it is possible to have a good quality of life whilst living with dementia.1-3
By having awareness of the main symptoms of dementia and how this might affect someone’s day to day life, we can all help to ensure if we recognise these symptoms in ourselves or others, we know to seek the advice of a medical professional. We can also more easily support people living with dementia to remain as valuable members of our communities.
Here are some top tips to help support someone in your community living with symptoms of dementia 8,9:
-Treat them with dignity and respect
-Keep talking directly to the person, not just to those around them
-Be patient and offer support where you can
-Make sure the person knows you are there to listen
-Try not to correct or criticize the person, but rather offer reassurance
Raising awareness also helps with fundraising for dementia charities or other sources of funding which helps contribute to research into developing more treatments for dementia and supporting those with dementia and their loved ones.
Becoming a Dementia Friend
You can sign up to become a UK or US Dementia Friend by watching a short awareness video or signing up to a longer awareness session and pledging yourself to help raise awareness in your community and look out for those with symptoms of dementia.
What to do if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms that may be related to dementia
Go to see your GP or Family Physician to discuss your symptoms. You may be able to bring a loved one or carer along to your appointment to help describe how you’ve been feeling.
For more information about how dementia is diagnosed see here. Since dementia can be overwhelming for caregivers, many local hospitals or charities have caregiver support groups or resources.
Useful sources of support
-World Health Organisation Dementia page
-Alzheimer’s Association not only has support for patients, but also for their caregivers; call them on 800 272 3900 for more information and advice
-CDC Dementia page
-NHS Dementia page
-Alzheimer’s Society which also runs the National Dementia Helpline; call them on 0300 222 11 22 for more information and advice - Dementia UK which also has a free Admiral Nurse Helpline for people to ring up for support, as well as an email helpline; call them on 0800 888 6678 for more information and advice-Other UK based Dementia charities
- Alzheimer’s Society UK: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/...
- World Health Organisation: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia
- NHS About Dementia: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/...
- USA today: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/08/10/alzheimers-disease-states-where-cases-will-rise-most-by-2025/42187567/
- Alzheimer’s association: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs
- Alzheimer’s Society Canada https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/do-i-have-dementia/10-warning-signs-dementia
- Alzheimer’s Research UK https://www.alzheimersresearchuk.org/12-modifiable-risk-factors-could-reduce-dementia-40/
- Dementia Friends UK (an Alzheimer’s Society Initiative): https://www.dementiafriends.org.uk/WEBArticle?page=become-dementia-friend
- Dementia Friends US: https://dementiafriendsusa.org/
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.