More than three million cases of dementia are diagnosed in the United States every year. Sadly, there is still no cure in sight. However, many treatments can improve a person with dementia's quality of life, such as medication and therapy, which help slow the progression of the disease. Although it is often used synonymously with Alzheimer's disease, dementia has a unique set of symptoms.
Many patients with dementia may experience problems with all types of memory loss. The most common symptom is short-term memory loss. Someone with this type of memory impairment may have difficulty recalling something that took place hours or even minutes ago. However, they may remember something that happened twenty years ago. Some patients and their loved ones attribute this symptom to stress or having a lot on their minds. However, this is one of the most prominent early warning signs of dementia.
Another early warning sign is the way that dementia can affect how a person speaks. Many people with dementia have difficulty finding the right words, which can cause them to become quieter than they were. Often, they cease to communicate with friends and family.
Another early warning symptom that may indicate dementia is confusion. This can range from a bit of cloudiness to a constant state of mental disarray. A commonly reported manifestation of confusion is the inability to match a face with a name. Confusion may also cause a person to use poor judgment. In some cases, a person with dementia may cease to interact with people, withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed.
A person with dementia may experience mood swings or shifts. This symptom is often dependent upon the other symptoms they happen to be experiencing that particular day. For example, when a patient has a hard time remembering where they left their car keys, it can create a pattern for the entire day, often ending in depression and anxiety. People with dementia typically do not realize that their moods are changing from one minute to the next. They may even become combative when confronted about these shifts.
Patients with dementia often have a difficult time understanding sarcasm. As brain functions become muddled, the patient may become incapable of distinguishing between sarcasm and seriousness and will begin to take everything literally, misunderstanding common expressions and figures of speech.
Completing normal daily activities and chores can become complicated for a person with dementia. The disease can completely alter the way the mind processes vital information. This means that a person with dementia may forget how to tie their shoes. Some may attempt to teach themselves a more complicated way to complete a basic task that they've been doing since childhood. This symptom can affect their ability to learn new things, as well. An inability to perform simple tasks makes working outside of the home difficult. At this stage, patients with dementia generally require live-in assistance.
Patients with dementia may begin to develop problems with repetition that can range in severity. An individual may forget if they went to the grocery store or washed their car and, as a result, repeat these tasks. This may eventually progress into completing tasks over and over again. They may even begin untying their shoes and then retying them several times within the same hour. This early warning sign can often be confusing, causing friends and family members to associate it with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People with dementia typically experience a loss of interest in life. This is why it is so important they receive counseling or work with a mental health care provider to help prevent or delay the onset of depression and anxiety. Combined with the other symptoms of dementia, these feelings can be extremely dangerous. Friends and family members should continue to involve their loved one in activities and help them maintain their regular schedule where possible.
Another early warning sign of dementia is increased instances of falling. People may find it difficult to tell their feet where to go. They may misjudge their steps and fall down on stairs or sidewalks. They may also begin to lose their sense of direction. Many even forget where they live. For this reason, it is important that a person with dementia be closely cared for by friends, family, or in-home health care professionals.
People who have dementia have a difficult time coping with the changes occurring in their lives. They often feel as if someone has completely taken over their minds and that they are rarely in control of any scenario or circumstance. This can create a lot of fear, and can be one more incentive for an individual to start withdrawing from society. He or she may also begin to crave a strict routine, hoping to avoid as many surprise situations as possible.