How to Spot the Early Signs of Dementia at Home
Dementia is a common, but devastating condition that is affecting a growing number of people as the 'baby boom' generation of the 1950s and 1960s is now retiring, and medical treatments mean we are now living longer than ever. It affects mainly the elderly, and while science can keep us going physically in ways that were not available in the past, there is no cure for this degenerative mental illness. So while we may live longer, we may not be in a condition to appreciate that extended time.
There is no cure, but treatment and therapy while still in the early stages of dementia can result in a slowing of the onset, preserving a more normal state of mind for a longer period, and so increasing the quality of life for both the individual and their families. The opportunity to involve other professionals at this stage, such as a home care agency, can also reduce the speed at which a person succumbs to the condition.
The problem is that we do become naturally forgetful in old age, and it is a gradual process. The key is to realise when behaviour passes beyond normal absent-mindedness, and into the realms of a distinct change in behaviour.
So what should you look for to spot the early stages of the disease? The main point to remember is that dementia affects every person slightly differently, and people will not develop symptoms in exactly the same way. The initial personality, general health and lifestyle of a person are all factors that affect how symptoms may show themselves. There are, however, more common early symptoms and these can be looked for:
- Memory loss, especially with the short-term memory. This is the most common early symptom to show itself. It will differ from ordinary forgetfulness in that unaffected people can still remember other things associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, you may forget why you just ran up the stairs at home, but you know there was a reason. A person with dementia will not even remember this, and have no idea why they're at the top of the stairs.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks. People with dementia often find everyday tasks beyond them, such as knowing what order to put clothes on or the sequence for preparing a meal.
- Problems with language. We all have trouble finding the right words on occasion, but a person with dementia will forget even simple words, or use strange words instead so what they say ends up being meaningless.
- Disorientation with time and place. People with dementia can become lost in familiar places, forget where they are or how they got there, and not know how to get back home. They may also get night and day the wrong way round.
- Poor judgement. A person may dress oddly, wearing several layers of clothes around the home on a warm day or hardly any on a cold day when out and about.
- Unable to keep track of things, such as following a conversation or keeping up with tasks like paying bills.
- Misplacing things. Do they put things in unusual places, such as shoes in the fridge or milk cartons in a fruit bowl.
- Rapid changes in mood or behaviour. Mood swings affect us all at times, but a person with dementia may display unusually rapid and inappropriate mood swings. Alternatively a person with dementia may show less emotion than you would expect from that person, and not care about things they normally would.
- Loss of drive and initiative. People with dementia tend to become very passive, sitting at home in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual, and don't care about the hobbies and activities that that they used to devote time to.
Noticing any combination of these may be the early signs that allow you to at least suspect the onset of dementia. If that's the case it's worth trying to persuade that person to go to the doctor for an initial test and diagnosis. While this in itself may prove a delicate challenge and require a degree of diplomacy, early intervention can help preserve a quality of life that families can appreciate for years.
About the Author:
Care agency advice and guidance for al home care issues in Worthing, Brighton and Sussex.
Brighton Home Care Agency