Dementia: These are the early signs to look out for

One of the conditions affecting patients who receive palliative care from HospiceWits is dementia. This catchall term describes a number of conditions, both progressive and terminal, which include Alzheimer’s disease (this is the most common form of dementia), frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, Korsakoff syndrome and/or a combination of these conditions.

While many people consider dementia a normal part of aging, it is important to mention that this group of conditions do not form a part of the normal cognitive decline that older people experience, as it is a disease of the brain that affects cognitive functioning and decline in short-term memory, and often causes irreversible loss of neurons.

It is important to recognise the early signs and symptoms of dementia, not only because these might present far earlier than one might expect, but also because an early diagnosis of dementia ensures that a patient can plan for the future and receive the medical and non-medical interventions that may reduce the speed of the progression of the disease.

Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms. Should you notice them in yourself or in a loved one, make it a priority to speak to a medical professional about what the treatment path should be going forward.

Early signs of dementia, versus normal cognitive decline in older individuals

Even if dementia is often considered a normal part of growing old, there are significant differences between signs of dementia, and normal signs of aging.

For example, age-related changes might lead a person to make a bad decision once every often, whilst dementia symptoms include regular poor judgement and decision-making. As people grow older, they might forget to pay a bill once in a blue moon, but the total inability to manage a budget if one was once able to do so might be a sign of cognitive decline related to dementia.

Similarly, forgetting the day or date (and then perhaps remembering it later) is quite normal for older people – people who are in the early stages of dementia will often lose track of the date or season without recalling the fact later.

Sometimes forgetting a word is normal for most people, regardless of their age, while people with dementia will struggle to have a proper conversation or follow a conversation with other people or on the TV or radio, often confusing words and the structure of a sentence. Even if we all sometimes misplace objects, people who are starting to show signs of dementia will do this very regularly, and will exhibit an inability to retrace their steps in order to find said objects.

Other signs to look out for include:

  • Forgetting the names of close friends or everyday objects.
  • Feeling confused (even in places a person is familiar with) or getting lost on journeys that are familiar to a person.
  • Pronounced changes in mood or behaviour.
  • Noticing that other people notice or comment on a person’s memory loss.

How to prevent the onset of dementia

While dementia often has a strong genetic link (in other words, if a close relative has the disease, there is a chance that there may be a family history which affects a person’s susceptibility to also being diagnosed with it in their life), there are certain lifestyle changes that may reduce someone’s chances of getting dementia. Following a healthy, balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can be beneficial, as can regular exercise and keeping the blood pressure at a healthy level. Cutting down on drinking alcohol and quitting smoking is also always advisable.

Should you require assistance with a loved one who requires palliative care due to dementia, please contact HospiceWits. Our interdisciplinary team takes a holistic approach to palliative care, which can be of great support to a dementia patient and their relatives.