Becoming forgetful from time to time is a relatively normal part of the aging process.
However, there are some cases where an increasingly severe memory loss, amongst several other symptoms, can be an early sign of dementia. Recent reports have highlighted a failing sense of direction in particular as a key early indicator of the condition, which researchers are now using to attempt to design the first ever test for dementia, .
Dementia is a general term which describes a decline in mental ability, with impairments to thinking, communicating and memory. This can begin to interfere with daily life.
There are currently 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Society – a number which is set to rise to over a million in the next ten years.
There are hundreds of types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most well-known and common condition, making up around 60-80% of cases. There are a wide range of symptoms that an individual may experience. Each person is affected differently, with no two people experiencing the same range or impact of symptoms. Personality, social situation, and general health are all significant factors in determining the impact dementia can have on a person.
There are ways to recognise the onset of dementia in a loved one. According to the NHS, here are seven early signs:
1. Memory loss
One of the most common early signs of dementia is memory loss which begins to disrupt daily life – particularly short term memory changes, such as forgetting recently learnt information, forgetting messages, or struggling to remember routes or names.
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
Taking on familiar tasks that are normally carried out on a daily basis at home, work or as leisure activities, such as getting dressed in the morning, can become increasingly difficult to complete.
3. Confusion and disorientation with time and place
A failing sense of direction, spatial orientation and the resulting confusion are common signs of the onset of dementia. This can include losing track of the passage of time or forgetting important dates and events, as well as those living with dementia forgetting where they are, regardless of how familiar their location may be. They may also struggle to recall how they got there and how they can return. Disorientation can make it harder to follow a series of directions or instructions.
4. Changes in mood, behaviour and personality
As dementia tends to affect judgement, visible changes to a loved one's mood and personality can be a common sign of the condition. They may be exhibiting rapid and unprovoked mood swings, with depression being a typical sign of early dementia.
5. Problems with communication
Simple, day-to-day conversations can become a struggle for those experiencing early signs of dementia. They can face difficulties with words, expression and explanation, and they may find it hard to join or follow conversation.
They may begin to withdraw from or lose interest in work, social activities, or their once-loved hobbies.
7. Loss of Judgement
Loss of judgement can be a sign and a symptom of dementia. A loved one may be showing signs of making inappropriate decisions, as a result of being unable to evaluate and consider their actions and the consequences as before.
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