Certain early signs of dementia can be confused for the signs of aging. How to spot the symptoms at the earliest?
The early signs of dementia, as well as this disorder itself, come in many forms. Although they all involve damage to the brain and memory impairment, they’re often categorized based on their cause.
Types of Dementia
Vascular dementia occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, so it commonly follows a stroke or a series of minor strokes. This condition accounts for about 10 percent of dementia cases, so it’s one of the most common forms.
Lewy body dementia is caused by the growth of abnormal protein deposits in the brain. These deposits are known as Lewy bodies and are named after Fritz Heinrich Lewy, the doctor who first took note of the proteins in the early 1900s.
Over 1 million people in the U.S. suffer from this condition, according to the National Institute on Aging. Frontotemporal dementia, as the name implies, involves the death of cells in the frontal and temporal areas of the brain.
Sometimes mistaken for other conditions such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disease, or schizophrenia, frontotemporal dementia is often diagnosed in people between their mid-40s and early 60s.
As of 2018, Alzheimer’s disease affects roughly 5.7 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. This number is expected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. It’s often diagnosed in people who are in their 60s, but early-onset conditions can be found much earlier.
Unfortunately, the cause of the disease is still somewhat of a mystery. Many doctors believe it comes from a combination of lifestyle choices and genetic predisposition.
No matter what kind of dementia affects a loved one in your life, it’s wise to get it diagnosed in its early stages. By doing so, you’ll have time to prepare for the difficult times ahead and find the appropriate ways to care for the individual.
Early Signs of Dementia
While there are many causes of this disorder, the early signs of dementia tend to look the same. These signs are also subtle, and it’s easy to overlook them or write them off if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
1. Memory Problems
Many people associate dementia with memory problems, but forgetfulness isn’t always definite proof of a developing problem.
For example, the National Institute on Aging points out that it’s fairly normal for someone to forget what day it is and then to remember it later. However, if a person completely loses track of the day and time of year, this might be a warning sign.
It’s also common to misplace an item, like keys, on occasion. But if it happens frequently, to the point that it interferes with daily functioning, this could be one of the early signs of dementia.
Also note that even in cases of advanced dementia, a person might remember events that happened years ago but have no memory of recent events.
Alongside lapses in short-term memory, a person with the early signs of dementia might commonly experience confusion. For example, a person might suddenly be confused about the current situation, place, or time. Mistaking a present event for a past event might be a frequent occurrence.
3. Difficulty Concentrating
Concentrating on tasks can become a challenge for people who are developing dementia. Even something as routine as cooking or bathing can become more difficult due to lapses in short-term memory.
An increase in mishaps, such as burnt food or unpaid bills, could be a warning sign.
4. Language Problems
No one is eloquent all the time. Sometimes you just can’t think of the right word to finish your sentence. However, people who are developing dementia tend to experience this problem more than most.
Not only will they have a hard time communicating their thoughts, following conversations, in general, can be difficult. Language problems aren’t limited to speech. Difficulty reading is also among the early signs of dementia.
5. Changes in Personality
Early dementia might bring about changes in mood and personality. This sign is especially common in cases of frontotemporal dementia. The person might seem increasingly irritable, suspicious, or depressed.
Mood swings are common, and so is a sudden loss of interest in hobbies or other enjoyable events. Some people even lose their inhibitions or develop obsessive behavior, according to the University of California San Francisco.
You might be tempted to attribute some of these early signs of dementia to the usual signs of aging. Perhaps you’re right, and there’s nothing to worry, but communicating all behavioral changes with a doctor is always a wise precaution.
So what happens if a loved one is diagnosed with dementia? Having a plan for assisted dementia care should be at the top of your list, especially if you don’t have the time or resources to handle this challenge alone.