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Dementia symptoms: what to look for

Dementia is a condition where the person affected progressively loses their mental ability and cognitive functions. It usually happens later in life, but some forms can affect people in their 40s and 50s. Dementia symptoms usually start gradually and then worsen relentlessly over time.

Symptoms of dementia vary according to personal factors such as personality, general health and social circumstances. You may start noticing dementia symptoms in yourself, but more often than not it is the people closest to you, your friends or family, who will notice them first. This article outlines some of the most common dementia symptoms so that you’ll have a better idea of what to look out for and when to seek medical help for yourself or for someone else.

This article on dementia symptoms is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.


Non-specific symptoms

Misplacing things - One of the most common dementia symptoms is misplacing common objects such as your glasses, your wallet or your keys. You may also end up putting things in unusual places, such as your sunglasses in the fridge, or your wallet in the dishwasher. However, all of these ‘dementia symptoms’ include things that most of us do from time to time; they are not always a sign of dementia.

Loss of motivation is also something that we all suffer and is common in mental illness such as depression. However, in the context of dementia, symptoms of this will be more pronounced and will last for longer. For example, you may sit passively for many hours, or sleep more than usual, or you may show a drastic loss of interest in hobbies or subjects that you were once passionate about.

Early definite symptoms

Moodiness is one of the common early symptoms of dementia.It occurs when dementia affects the parts of your brain that controls emotions. Although everyone experiences different moods, those caused by dementia often arise for no apparent reason. This may come out in many different ways, for example by suddenly becoming irritable, tearful or angry. On the other end of the scale, you may react differently and show less emotion than you used to in earlier life. Dementia symptoms relating to moodiness can also be affected by anxiety about your condition and about the thought of losing control.

Difficulty performing complex tasks is an important warning sign of dementia. You may find it difficult to perform complex tasks that you previously had no trouble with, for example balancing a chequebook, or working out a budget. Related to this is a loss of the ability to think abstractly. Many people attribute these dementia symptoms to growing older but it is important to recognise it and get an assessment for dementia as early treatment could slow the course of the disease.

An attention span that declines rapidly can indicate dementia.You start to experience situations in which you are completely unable to concentrate for extended periods of time. For example, you may no longer be able to watch a film or DVD all the way through, or read the page of a book without forgetting what you have read.

More serious symptoms

Memory loss is usually one of the first more serious dementia symptoms that you may notice in yourself or in someone close to you. The loss of memory usually affects the short-term memory first, such as forgetting what happened earlier in the day, or forgetting what you’ve just said. In later stages of dementia, symptoms of memory loss extend to your long-term memory, such as forgetting how to get home if you’re driving or walking, or forgetting who a family member is. Late dementia symptoms may also extend to forgetting context, such as forgetting your daughter’s name but also forgetting the fact that she is your daughter. These dementia symptoms are usually the most difficult for the family of someone affected by late-stage dementia.

Language problems can be one of the most frustrating dementia symptoms. Difficulty speaking and understanding what others have said starts out gradually but becomes the most debilitating in late stages of the disease. For example, you may use the wrong words for common objects, or forget words. As dementia symptoms progress, your vocabulary may decline dramatically to the point where your speech consists mainly of one-syllable words such as “yes” and “no” that are interspersed with one keyword.

Difficulty performing common tasks is one of the more severe dementia symptoms. In the later stages of the disease, you may have difficult doing the washing, locking up the house, or dressing yourself. As this happens, grooming and dressing standards may deteriorate – for example, you may end up dressing inappropriately for the weather, or forget to bath or shower. As these dementia symptoms progress, you may eventually lose the ability to function independently.

Disorientation is common in advanced dementia. As symptoms of dementia become more pronounced, the person affected becomes increasingly disoriented with their surroundings and context. They may not know what day it is, or even what year. They can also start wandering or become disoriented in familiar surroundings and need constant care and supervision.

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Dementia symptoms: what to look for
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