What happens in early stage dementia?

If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with dementia you might be really worried about what’s going to happen next. Find out everything you need to know – and how to continue enjoying life to the full – during the early stages of dementia

Could this be you?

You have probably been experiencing slight memory problems or suffering from mild cognitive impairment for quite a while. At first, you may have put your forgetfulness down to getting older or having a lot on your mind, but when your nearest and dearest started to notice, you realised it might be worth getting checked out. Now you’ve been diagnosed and you’re terrified you’re going to wake up one day and find you don’t remember anything at all…

Or this?

You have been worried about your partner or parent’s memory for ages but they kept telling you it was nothing. Now you’re relieved to have a diagnosis so you can start to get the right support and treatment but you’re also really concerned about how quickly they might deteriorate.

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Don’t panic

Discovering dementia can be very upsetting and scary, however the condition does tend to progress slowly, over several years, which means most people find they can still lead a pretty normal life during the early stages, with only a few tweaks and perhaps a little support from family or friends.

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Four symptoms of early dementia - and how to cope

1. They forget recent conversations, events and people

Whilst they probably won’t have any difficulty remembering something that happened twenty or thirty years ago, recent events will be much more difficult for the person you’re caring for to retain. For example, a conversation on the phone could be quickly forgotten, as can the name of a person they were introduced to ten minutes ago, or – more worryingly perhaps – a tap, or a cooker, that’s been left on.

BUT there are hundreds of gadgets to help keep your loved one safe in their home, despite their increasing forgetfulness. Find out how to make their house dementia-friendly.

2. They’re unwilling to take risks

And who can blame them? It’s only natural to be more cautious if you’re worried about your memory. However, if this understandable caution begins to seriously affect their enjoyment of life, it might be worth offering some support. For example, if they’d like to go back to church but are afraid to go alone, could you go with them – or arrange for someone in their religious community to collect them (most would be very happy to help)? Practising faith can be a great comfort.

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3. They find it difficult to plan or organise

They may still love the idea of having the whole family over for Sunday lunch or tea (it brings back so many happy memories) but the organisation is just too difficult. So instead, why not suggest other people in the family take turns, share the cooking, and bring the food with them. The person with dementia can still be kept busy and purposeful setting the table or helping to serve the food.

4. They lose important items such as keys, purse or phone

This can cause enormous frustration, stress and panic – and a lot of wasted time. The best way to deal with it is to accept it’s likely to happen often, and plan as many ways as possible to avoid it. Check out voice recorders and locators.

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A word of warning

The ‘stages’ theory of dementia is only for general guidance so don’t take these early stage symptoms too literally, because:

- Every dementia journey is unique – your loved one might not fall into one particular category.
- Some symptoms appear one day…and then vanish the next.
- Most people experience ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ throughout their journey. On a ‘good day’ the person you’re caring for may seem as if there’s nothing wrong at all. On a ‘bad day’ it can look as if they’ve suddenly declined and are now in the moderate to late stages of the illness.

The good news

Although daily life may have changed slightly during the early stages of dementia, many people find it’s still pretty good, they can still drive continue to lead a good social life and live independently.