Dementia & Alzheimer’s – 10 Early Signs and Symptoms

Catching dementia early and promptly starting treatment can significantly slow its progression, helping preserve cognitive abilities longer. Witnessing a loved one’s mental decline is undoubtedly difficult, but the early and middle stages still present opportunities for better outcomes through patience and compassion. 

In this article, we’ll explore subtle signs of dementia to monitor and when it’s time to seek medical evaluation. An early diagnosis enables critical treatments to help your loved one retain more of the qualities that make them who they are.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

1. Subtle short-term memory changes

It’s normal to occasionally walk into a room and forget why, or misplace your phone for a short time before finding it. But when these minor memory slips become more persistent and severe, it could signal early dementia. 

While a healthy person may briefly forget where they left their keys before retracing their steps, someone with dementia may be unable to recall where their keys are at all. Or they might not remember eating breakfast just a few hours prior, even though they finished the whole plate. 

The difference is the frequency and severity of forgetfulness. If your loved one seems constantly plagued by an inability to recall recent events and conversations that exceed normal absentmindedness, it may point to early stage dementia warranting medical evaluation.

2. Difficulty finding the right words

Early on in dementia, your loved one may begin to have trouble naming familiar objects or expressing their thoughts fluidly. You’ll notice them grasping for specific words during a conversation that they just can’t recall.

Trying to verbalise ideas becomes a slow, laborious process as their vocabulary shrinks. If your parent or spouse begins struggling to find the right words, it could signify an early sign of dementia.

3. Changes in mood

Dramatic mood changes, such as increased anxiety, crying spells, or fearfulness, can also signal the early stages of dementia. Your loved one, who was always cheerful and easygoing, can start becoming fearful, anxious, and prone to crying spells. They’ll get more easily upset if small things go wrong or if their routine is disrupted. Unfamiliar situations also provoke anxiety, such as eating at a new restaurant or when visitors they don’t fully recognise come over.

If you notice them getting agitated, gently change the topic to something you know makes them happy, like discussing family. With compassion and patience, there are still moments when their old self shines through.

4. Apathy

Apathy or a lack of interest is a possible red flag for early dementia. You may observe a loved one who was once passionate about hobbies withdrawing from participating in them altogether. It’s undoubtedly difficult to watch them abandon meaningful pastimes that previously brought them joy.

However, discovering new, manageable activities you can do together can help lift their spirits. Exploring old family photo albums can kindle warm nostalgia, while a 20-minute neighbourhood stroll gets them outdoors, helping them appreciate nature once more. Meeting them where they are now is key to engaging their interest.

5. Difficulty completing tasks

As dementia progresses, an individual’s ability to complete once-familiar tasks diminishes. Of course, no one likes losing skills that were second nature for decades. To help preserve their dignity, look for ways they can still meaningfully contribute without getting frustrated. They may not be up for baking an elaborate cake anymore, but you can ask if they’d like to make the frosting, which brings them pride. Adjusting expectations helps sustain positive moments together.

6. Confusion

It’s common for people with dementia to become confused or disoriented about the past and present. Your loved one can sometimes express confusion about the season, unsure if it’s winter or summer based on the weather. They may regularly misidentify family members or use the wrong names. When you take them on errands, they may frequently ask where you are, even if it’s the same grocery store they’ve visited for years.

The uncertainty clearly distresses them during those episodes of confusion. But grounding them with gentle redirection helps alleviate the stress. Delivering corrections without judgement keeps them calm.

7. A failing sense of direction

As dementia progresses, spatial orientation and directional sense often decline. Your once very independent loved one may have always navigated their own neighbourhood flawlessly.

But now when you take them out, they become disoriented and fail to recognise familiar landmarks and street names. Even short walks from their home to the car leave them turned around and confused.

Losing this independence can be demoralising and frightening for them.

Strive to respond with patience and reassurance when they get lost, gently reorienting without judgement or scolding. Provide subtle memory aids and reminders to help them regain their bearings without making them feel inadequate.

Your support shows you are there to lift them up, not ridicule their mistakes.

8. Repetition

You may notice your loved ones frequently re-asking the date or retelling the same childhood tale minutes after sharing it before.

This repetitive tendency results from declining short-term memory associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As their ability to form new memories fades, they fall back on repeating familiar stories and questions even right after you respond.

While the constant repetition can be frustrating, react with patience and empathy every time. Visual aids like calendars may help prompt their memory between repetitions. With care and creativity, you can support them through this challenging symptom.

9. Struggling to adapt to change

People with dementia often stick to routines and reject any new experiences that disrupt their daily behaviour. Even tiny deviations from their daily schedule can cause agitation and fear.

Remember that this rigidity comes from their cognitive deterioration – unfamiliarity breeds fear as their mind declines. With understanding, you can ease transitions by offering ample reminders and preparation for necessary changes. Your patience and compassion will help alleviate their anxiety.

10. Poor judgement

Dementia hinders the ability to make sound judgments and recognise potentially harmful situations. It’s possible your loved one has begun exhibiting uncharacteristically poor judgement, such as trying to cross busy intersections without looking both ways or leaving the stove on after cooking.

Seeing someone lose their life skills that kept them safe for decades is certainly alarming. But remember, scolding won’t help, since they can’t control these cognitive declines.

Your most supportive role is gently protecting them from harm in subtle ways while preserving their dignity. With creativity and compassion, you can keep them safer despite their deteriorating judgement.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that dementia’s steady encroachment changes a person and makes caregiving increasingly demanding. However, adopting the right perspective and techniques can guide you through each new challenge together, upholding the dignity of all involved. Meeting your loved one where they are each day, with patience and compassion, ensures that meaningful moments shine through even in dementia’s darkness.