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What to look out for when dementia strikes loved one

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, and this September, World Alzheimer’s Month, Livewell aims to encourage understanding, reduce stigma and raise awareness of this common, devastating illness.

There are 10 warning signs and symptoms – every individual may experience one or more of these signs to a different degree. A general practitioner can advise on next steps.

1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

One of the most common signs of dementia, especially in the early stage, is forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, asking for the same information over and over, and increasingly needing to rely on aids (eg reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.

What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, and remembering them only later.

2. Challenges in planning or solving problems

Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.

What’s a typical age-related change? Making occasional errors when balancing a cheque book.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure

People with dementia often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes they may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favourite game.

What’s a typical age-related change? Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

4. Confusion with time or place

People with dementia can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.

What’s a typical age-related change? Getting confused about the day of the week, but figuring it out later.

5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

For some people having vision problems is a sign of dementia. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining colour or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.

What’s a typical age-related change? Vision changes related to cataracts.

6. New problems with words in speaking or writing

People with dementia may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (eg calling a “watch” a “hand clock.”)

What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

A person with dementia may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.

What’s a typical age-related change? Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

8. Decreased or poor judgment

People with dementia may experience changes in judgment or decision making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

What’s a typical age-related change? Making a bad decision once in a while.

9. Withdrawal from work or social activities

A person with dementia may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favourite sports team or remembering how to complete a favourite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of such changes.

What’s a typical age-related change? Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

10. Changes in mood and personality

The mood and personalities of people with dementia can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

What’s a typical age-related change? Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Early diagnosis affords some control. One can join a dementia support group.

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