Home Mind & Brain Spotting the Early Signs of Dementia in a Loved One: A Vital Guide for Caregivers

Spotting the Early Signs of Dementia in a Loved One: A Vital Guide for Caregivers

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Watching a loved one experience changes in memory, behaviour, and cognitive abilities can be both heartbreaking and worrisome. As we age, the risk of developing dementia increases, making it crucial for family members and caregivers to be vigilant in recognising the early signs of this debilitating condition.

Identifying dementia in its initial stages allows for early intervention, access to proper care, and the implementation of strategies to enhance the quality of life for individuals living with dementia.

Earlier this year, Bruce Willis was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD), after his condition worsened following his original diagnosis of aphasia. 

But what is frontotemporal dementia, and what are the signs you must look out for to try and spot early signs of dementia in a loved one? A spokesperson at Baycroft Care Homes has provided some of the most common signs to look out for, below.

Frontotemporal dementia: What is it?

Across the UK, 900,000 people are currently living with dementia, a syndrome which slowly deteriorates the functions of the brain. According to the NHS, there are many different types of dementia, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease – which affects memory skills and mental abilities – and vascular dementia – a reduction in blood flow to the brain which causes slowness of thought and disorientation. 

But how does this differ from frontotemporal dementia? FTD is a much less common type of dementia which also causes problems with behaviours and language, and typically is diagnosed in people from the age of 45 and up. FTD is a slow and progressive disease and is sometimes initially misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s or aphasia.

It’s possible for someone to have more than one type of dementia, and symptoms can also overlap. Stewart Mcginn, managing director at Baycroft Care Homes, identifies the signs to look out for in your loved ones and the next steps to take in order to provide them with the correct help that they need. 

  1. Continuously misplacing things.  Anyone can forget where they put their keys on the odd occasion, but if your loved one finds they are regularly misplacing items, it could be an early sign of dementia. For example, this could be continuously losing their glasses or finding items in strange places, like a TV remote in the fridge or food items in with the cleaning products.
  2. Difficulty focusing. Those suffering from early dementia can often struggle to concentrate or focus on tasks that require organisation and planning. That’s because Alzheimer’s disease, which causes dementia, affects the hippocampus, which controls new learning and memories. With this being disrupted, it can be much harder to concentrate..
  3. Problems with language. A sign that can indicate a person is suffering from dementia is having difficulty forming sentences or finding the right words during conversations. While everyone can forget the odd word from time to time, regularly struggling to remember words or substituting them in sentences with random words can indicate someone is suffering.
  4. Memory loss. One of the most noticeable and alarming signs that your loved one could be showing early signs of dementia is recurring memory loss. In particular, less significant pieces of information – that are also perhaps harder to spot – could be early warning signs that your loved one may have dementia. For example, re-reading the newspaper, re-telling stories, or forgetting an acquaintance’s name. If you do start to notice any patterns, Whether your loved one is frequently forgetting the names of people they know, or is unable to recall recent events or new information learned, it’s best to get them checked out by a doctor.
  5. Changes in mood. Frequent mood swings can be another indication that your loved one has early signs of dementia as they begin to get frustrated with themselves, sometimes without obvious cause or reason. This can be a person’s mood quickly changing from calm to angry or emotional without reason, or if they become generally more withdrawn or anxious.
  6. Finding it hard to carry out regular daily tasks. If you’ve noticed that your family member has recently started finding it hard to carry out regular daily tasks, like forgetting how to cook their favourite recipe that they have made countless times, or struggling to count their money in a supermarket – these could all be signs of dementia.
  7. Confusion surrounding time and place. Another distressing sign of dementia can be confusion around time and place. While many people can wander into a room and forget what they went in for, this is on a much more advanced level. For example, your elderly family member might become lost on a street they have walked down their whole life and struggle to find their way home. Differently, your loved one might get confused about time, being unable to distinguish between their past and present. This could include confusing family members with people from their past, like their own parents, and struggling to remember people from their present, like their grandchildren.

How to help someone displaying signs of dementia?

Diagnosis from a GP

Stewart explains, “The first step is to help your family member, loved one or friend get a diagnosis from a specialist.

“In order to be referred to a specialist, you will need to make a GP appointment where the doctor will ask about the patient’s symptoms. It’s always best to accompany the person displaying early signs of dementia to the appointment, as you might notice changes or issues that they themselves haven’t, or simply because they might have trouble remembering any information given by the GP. “

“The doctor will usually do a physical examination, a type of memory test, and may even want to send your bloodwork or urine off for results, to help rule out other things that can contribute to memory loss.” 

Referral to a specialist 

“Once seen by a GP, if the doctor thinks the patient needs to be referred, they can visit one or multiple specialists including a neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist or geriatrician,” Stewart says.

“This will often include more memory tests, tests to assess thinking abilities and problem-solving, and scans like a CT scan or MRI.”

Help to come to terms with the diagnosis

“People suffering from early signs of dementia may struggle to come to terms with the diagnosis, or have more questions or worries that they want to be answered. There are a number of dementia charities and support lines that can provide your loved one with some comfort during this difficult time.”

  • Alzheimer’s Research UK can be contacted at 0300 111 511 to answer any questions and provide information about dementia, to help family members better understand it. 
  • Alzheimer’s Society also provides a support line called the Dementia Connect support line on 0333 150 3456. This helpline gives out advice about suffering from dementia and can help to clear up any worries that your loved one might have.  
  • Dementia UK helpline can be reached at 0800 888 6678 and offers information, advice and support from specialist admiral nurses. 

Deciding the level of care 

“If you are concerned that your loved one is struggling to deal with everyday tasks and is no longer able to live alone, it’s important to contact social services to request a needs assessment. 

“This assessment will determine the type of help the person living with dementia will require, whether it’s carers visiting the home or whether they’ll need to go into more permanent care. There will also be a financial assessment to determine how much your family member or your family will need to contribute.”

Choosing the right care home

“If your loved one can no longer care for themselves and needs to be moved into a care home, it’s vital that you choose one that both you and your family member are happy with, to avoid any upset in the transition.”

Stewart Mcginn, managing director at Baycroft Care Homes, explains: “A high-quality and carefully selected care home can not only provide a safe environment with trained carers on hand for someone living with dementia, but it can also provide many home comforts that make your loved one feel at ease during this difficult time.”

There are a number of questions you can ask or elements to consider to make sure you are choosing the right care home for your family member, such as:

  • The carer-to-resident ratio
  • What the policy is on visiting
  • Enquiring about the meals and timings 
  • Ensuring well-maintained facilities 
  • What activities are available 
  • If there’s an outside area or garden accessible for residents
  • The comfort and standard of the rooms
  • Staff training for residents with dementia
  • What the daily routines are like and how flexible these are to each resident
  • If there’s a tv, radio or a quieter space like a reading room

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