Dementia is a term used to describe a series of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop working correctly. This could be due to damage or disease which can lead to severe problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Still, how can you spot the initial signs of this complex condition?
In this article, we delve into pinpointing the earliest signs of dementia, helping you and your loved ones to understand and cope with this condition before it burgeons.
Understanding the Condition
Before diving into the signs and symptoms of dementia, you need to fully understand what dementia entails. Dementia isn’t a specific disease, but it’s a general term that encapsulates a variety of symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills. There are many types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most widespread. The commonality across all types of dementia is the impairment in memory, communication, and thinking.
Understanding this gives us a template to identify dementia early signs properly. It is, however, necessary to note that everyone is unique and might not show all these signs. When people think about the impacts of dementia, memory loss usually is the first symptom that comes to mind. While it’s true that this is a key aspect of dementia, the condition affects people in many other ways as well. It can impact individuals’ ability to communicate, their mood and personality, and even their physical capabilities.
Memory Loss that Disrupts Daily Life
Memory issues are one of the most common signs of dementia. This could take the shape of forgetting recent events or information, repeating questions or statements, forgetting dates or events, and increasingly relying on memory aids like reminder notes or electronic devices. These signs could be more noticeable when memory loss begins to interfere with daily activities. The tricky part about memory loss is that it’s also a normal part of aging. That’s why you need to use the resources available, like those provided by Alzheimer’s organizations, to identify your specific symptoms and their cause.
However, there is a difference between benign forgetfulness and the kind of memory loss associated with dementia. For example, it’s typically not a problem if you occasionally forget a name but can later recall it. The key here is the disruption of normal life – even simple tasks or conversations can become challenging. Also, know that memory loss isn’t always the first sign of dementia. Many individuals experience other changes – such as difficulty completing familiar tasks or having trouble with planning and problem-solving – before they notice memory issues.
Challenges in Planning or Problem-Solving
Individuals experiencing dementia might encounter difficulty in planning or problem-solving. This could manifest in diverse ways; they might experience trouble following a plan, working with numbers, keeping track of monthly bills, or understanding the information they’ve just read. Similarly, their concentration might wane, leading to them taking much longer to do things they did before with less effort.
This is an area where dementia can impact individuals’ everyday lives. It’s not just about forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning or misplacing the car keys; it’s about struggling to manage financial affairs, organize the day-to-day logistics of living independently, or even comprehend written or spoken information.
Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks
As dementia progresses, the individual may have trouble completing familiar tasks. For instance, they may forget how to get to a familiar location, how to play a favorite game, or how to use a common household appliance. The primary thing to bear in mind is that these are tasks that they were previously able to do with ease. It often starts with complexity. The less complex a task, the longer they are able to do it unaided. And as their cognitive impairment deepens, these previously mastered tasks become a challenge. It can be easy to chalk these difficulties up to carelessness or a lack of focus, especially in the early stages of dementia. However, if these issues are persisting or worsening over time, it could be a sign of an underlying issue.
Trouble with Understanding Visual Images and Spatial Relationships
For some people, a subtle sign of early dementia is problems with visual and spatial abilities, such as judging distances between objects or understanding maps. This might manifest itself as difficulty reading, determining color or contrast, or recognizing shapes.
It’s worth noting that this kind of visual confusion is different from the normal visual changes that occur as we age. It is not related to problems with the eye or vision, but rather to how the brain processes what it sees. So you’d observe that glasses or other normal vision aids won’t rectify these issues. Unfortunately, because these changes are often subtle and gradual, they can be difficult to detect in the early stages. Nonetheless, being cognizant of these signs helps in identifying the early onset of dementia.
New Problems with Words in Speaking or Writing
Those with early dementia may also have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue, or they may repeat themselves. They may also struggle with vocabulary, struggle to find the right word, or call things by the wrong name. This symptom is particularly hard for loved ones to watch because communication is such a vital part of who we are as human beings.
As the ability to express themselves deteriorates, getting through a conversation can become a struggle, leading to frustration and further withdrawal. It’s also worth mentioning that these symptoms can be a sign of other conditions, such as stroke, so it’s essential that anyone experiencing these kinds of issues seeks medical attention as soon as possible.
Misplacing Things and Losing the Ability to Retrace Steps
Another early sign of dementia is frequently misplacing things and being unable to backtrack to find them. They may place items in unusual places and accuse others of theft when they can’t find a misplaced item. Although everyone misplaces things from time to time, people with dementia may do so more frequently and they may not have the ability to retrace their steps to find them. Furthermore, this trait tends to get worse over time.
So what often begins as losing track of keys or phones can extend to more troublesome cases like misplacing documents or getting lost in previously familiar places. You also have to acknowledge that frustration or even anger may accompany this symptom, as it represents a significant loss of control over one’s environment and independence.
Withdrawal from Work or Social Activities
A noticeable shift in work habits or withdrawal from social activities can also be indicative of early dementia. Affected individuals may start to pull away from hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports they once loved, and may have trouble keeping up with their favorite sports teams or remembering how to complete a favorite pastime. Withdrawal from social activities is not a direct result of memory loss, but rather an emotional response to the changes and challenges that come with dementia. It can be an emotional response to the frustration of not being able to function as they once did.
As you can see, understanding the early signs of dementia is critical in getting the help and treatment required. By recognizing these signs, we can understand and empathize with those suffering from this condition. More importantly, we can guide them in taking the next steps toward managing or even potentially reversing some of these symptoms. These symptoms can also be a sign of other medical conditions or even just the aging process, so anyone noticing these changes should seek medical attention to understand the underlying condition. Follow our advice and you can take the best possible care of yourself.