Early symptoms

Every person is unique and dementia affects people differently - no two people will have symptoms that develop in exactly the same way. An individual's personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of dementia on him or her.

Symptoms vary between Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia, but there are broad similarities between them all. The most common signs are memory loss and the loss of practical abilities, which can lead to withdrawal from work or social activities. If you think that these problems are affecting your daily life, or the life of someone you know, you should talk to your doctor, or encourage them to talk to theirs.

The most common early symptoms of dementia are:

Memory loss

Declining memory, especially short-term memory, is the most common early symptom of dementia. People with ordinary forgetfulness can still remember other facts associated with the thing they have forgotten. For example, they may briefly forget their next-door neighbour's name but they still know the person they are talking to is their next-door neighbour. A person with dementia will not only forget their neighbour's name but also the context.

Difficulty performing familiar tasks

People with dementia often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that are so familiar we usually do not think about how to do them. A person with dementia may not know in what order to put clothes on or the steps for preparing a meal.

Problems with language

Occasionally everyone has trouble finding the right word but a person with dementia often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making speech or writing hard to understand.

Disorientation to time and place

We sometimes forget the day of the week or where we are going but people with dementia can become lost in familiar places such as the road they live in, forget where they are or how they got there, and not know how to get back home. A person with dementia may also confuse night and day.

Poor or decreased judgement

People with dementia may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers of clothes on a warm day or very few on a cold day.

Problems with keeping track of things

A person with dementia may find it difficult to follow a conversation or keep up with paying their bills.

Misplacing things

Anyone can temporarily misplace his or her wallet or keys. A person with dementia may put things in unusual places such as an iron in the fridge or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

Changes in mood or behaviour

Everyone can become sad or moody from time to time. A person with dementia may become unusually emotional and experience rapid mood swings for no apparent reason. Alternatively a person with dementia may show less emotion than was usual previously.

Changes in personality

A person with dementia may seem different from his or her usual self in ways that are difficult to pinpoint. A person may become suspicious, irritable, depressed, apathetic or anxious and agitated especially in situations where memory problems are causing difficulties.

Loss of initiative

At times everyone can become tired of housework, business activities, or social obligations. However a person with dementia may become very passive, sitting in front of the television for hours, sleeping more than usual, or appear to lose interest in hobbies.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are concerned about a friend or relative, visit your doctor and discuss your concerns.

Where next?