Do I have dementia? Spot the early symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Worried about problems with your memory? Concerned about the increasing forgetfulness of a partner, parent or family member? Here’s how to spot the first symptoms of dementia

While everybody can experience a momentary slip of memory – misplaced keys or a forgotten name – if you or someone you know is repeatedly suffering particular memory problems, it may be worth taking note of the symptoms.

And while it may not be caused by Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or other neurodegenerative problems, it may be worth getting it checked out in case there is an underlying health problem that’s causing the memory loss.

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Because, while it’s not always easy to differentiate between normal ageing, mild cognitive impairment and dementia, there are some very distinct early symptoms of dementia.

These are some dementia symptoms you should look out for:

signs of dementia

1. Memory loss that’s affecting everyday life

For example, repeatedly forgetting important dates or appointments and having to be reminded of them. This usually applies to events that are quite recent, while events from the distant past are still easily remembered.

2. Losing conversation threads

This could happen while you’re talking - you suddenly lose your train of thought, or repeat yourself – or when someone else is speaking and you find yourself struggling to follow what they’re saying. This can also happen when you're watching TV programmes or films.

3. Forgetting the names of everyday objects

You may notice yourself, or someone you know, having difficulty finding the words for things and having to explain around the word. For example, they might call a watch a hand clock or say ‘the thing you use to tell the time that you wear on your wrist’.

4. Misplacing items or putting them back in the wrong place

Everyone can have those absent-minded days where they keep putting items down in one place and not being able to find them because they’re distracted. But if you find yourself repeatedly losing items because you really can’t remember where you left them, or are putting items back in completely the wrong place (for example tea bags in the fridge), then it could be a warning sign.

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5. Difficulty judging distances or colour contrasts

Dementia can affect the brain’s ability to perceive spatial relationships so you may struggle with parking if you drive (this is why you need to let the driving authorities know if you’re diagnosed) or find you’ve got clumsier. Unless colours are very bright, you may have problems differentiating between them.

6. Confusion about a time, place or route home

You may notice your previously independent parent now struggles to find their way home from the shops, or can’t work out why they’re in a particular place at a certain time. They may seem confused, even in a familiar environment.

7. Problem solving and planning difficulties

If you used to be a whizz in the kitchen, but now find you can’t fathom the microwave or burn the vegetables while undercooking the roast, it could be a sign of dementia. This is because it can affect your ability to follow a plan or recipe or remember how items used to work.

8. Lack of judgement

For example, making poor decisions about financial choices or the clothing you pick to go out each day. Confusion and uncertainty may see you sign up for schemes or pay money to people you wouldn’t normally have dreamed of doing, while you may struggle to dress appropriately and head out to the shops in shorts and sandals in the depths of winter.

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9. Mood changes

Have you noticed that someone you know has undergone a bit of a personality transplant, or is becoming increasingly moody, depressed, fearful or withdrawn? Or perhaps a family member who used to be quite shy and conservative is now less inhibited and prone to saying inappropriate things. Behaviour that is repeatedly ‘out of the ordinary’ can sometimes be a warning sign.

10. Becoming less sociable

Along with mood changes, you may notice that your relative or friend has lost interest in hobbies or activities that they used to enjoy, for example bridge games, choir rehearsals or committee meetings, often because they struggle to follow what’s going on.

Remember – you may not experience all of these signs and symptoms, but if you’re worried that you, a friend, partner or parent has dementia, it’s always best to get a proper diagnosis.

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