The importance of early detection in treating dementia means we should all know the signs
The treatment of dementia is undergoing a global transformation.
There are now around 10 million new cases diagnosed each year which means that somewhere in the world, every 3 seconds or so, someone is receiving devastating news that will affect their whole family.
There is no cure, but medicine is steadily improving its knowledge of the disease and there are a variety of treatments that can at least delay or halt its progress.
The problem lies in the initial diagnosis.
The earlier the condition is identified the better, but so many of the symptoms resemble the ‘normal’ deterioration of our mental faculties in senior years that tell-tale signs are often written off as “just age”.
This is made worse by the fact that often the last person to notice a problem is the sufferer themselves.
The only solution is for all of us with ageing relatives and friends to become more aware of the early indicators.
That doesn’t mean that every time Grandad loses his keys or mum forgets what she went shopping for they should be whisked up to the doctor’s.
With dementia these signs will be grouped together and occur regularly, if not often.
Short-term memory loss
Typically losing regularly used or needed items or forgetting why they came into a room or what they just said.
Long term memories may be totally unaffected.
Unexpected or unprovoked mood swings which are often accompanied by confusion and bluster because they cannot explain their mood themselves.
Not in reading, but in speaking.
Particular words or phrases may elude them completely, even after they have been reminded of them.
Basic task completion
This might start with tasks that require some level of mental agility like calculating a bill or payment or remembering reasonably long and involved processes like setting a programme to record or downloading an app.
Sufferers will find it increasingly difficult to learn and adapt to new tasks or changes in routine.
Sufferers may lose interest in a lifelong hobby or collection.
They may also seem unresponsive and emotionally flat, even at family events and celebrations.
They may even appear to disengage themselves from regular conversations with loved ones and partners.
Difficulty following sequences
Sufferers may find themselves bewildered by the storyline of a film or tv programme because they cannot follow the storyline.
Jokes and anecdotes may also fall flat because they don’t retain the sequence of events leading to the punchline or climax of a tale.
Their own descriptions of events will also become incoherent and irrational, with important sections of a story ignored or forgotten.
Loss of sense of direction
Like all of the symptoms described in this list, this can happen intermittently and may be all the more distressing when it strikes someone in the middle of a journey.
They may be out walking or driving and suddenly feel they have no sense of where they came from or should be travelling to.
This can lead to acute anxiety and even panic attacks which make matters worse.
These signs should be looked for collectively, they may not all appear, but if there are several indicators that trouble may be brewing you should try and convince the patient to see their doctor immediately.
The sooner they address the condition the more likely there is to be some measure of success in its treatment.
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