Alzheimer’s Disease International reveals that dementia picks up a victim every 3 seconds worldwide. The disease takes the lives of 47 million, and the number is predicted to swell to 75 million by 2030. The WHO also reports that the number of dementia patients will triple by 2050.
Latest figures in the UK uphold dementia as the leading culprit behind the death of 61,000 people, surpassing even heart disease. It is the second main cause of death in Australia. It claims the life of 1 in 3 American seniors with the odds bumped up by 89%.
Subtle symptoms characterize the early onset of dementia. It is only natural to keep track of the subtle signs of the disorder without jumping to any quick conclusions. Slips in memory alone don’t fit one in the dementia patients’ category.
To get a diagnosis, an individual should be experiencing minimum two impairment types that derail his daily activities. Impairments branch out to other categories in addition to a weakened memory. These include communication, focus, language, and reasoning.
Mentioned below are ten early symptoms of dementia that you should be aware of:
Short-term memory loss
Holes in one’s memory is one of the earliest signs of dementia. It results in the mind deleting or temporarily losing small bits of information. The memory decline in this stage is often short-term and revolves around recent events.
This means that an individual may remember a pivotal event in his life but still forget what he had for dinner. Dependence on memory aids also soars. Simultaneously, forgetfulness surfaces. Failing to remember appointments and dates is typical.
Difficulty in planning and completing familiar tasks
An inability to plan or follow a plan is another subtle sign of dementia. It takes longer to complete a task than it did before. Missing a few steps in a flowchart of a recipe is also commonplace, as one develops dementia.
This is accompanied with a diluted concentration span, which further aggravates problem-solving and managing a task. According to Alzheimer’s Association, it is typical to miss paying a monthly bill, as it is a sign of aging. However, an inability to manage a budget is a warning sign of dementia.
Challenges in communication are subtle during early stages of dementia. Over time, it worsens as the disease damages the part of the brain that supervises communication. Initially, one can still communicate and keep up with his social life. However, communication glitches, at this stage, are characterized by repetitive words and stories.
The vocabulary bank also runs dry, so one finds himself at a loss for words. Words tend to adopt a scrambled nature rather than a logically organized set. It is easy to lose one’s train of thought as well. A study found that repetitive responses make it onerous to comprehend the underlying message of what a person with dementia tries to say.
Hard time understanding visual images
One of the subtle signs of early dementia, in some instances, is an inability to comprehend visual images. This problem features difficulty in estimating distances, reading road signs, resolving color differences and contrasts. These vision-related problems culminate in trouble driving.
Peter Falk is an example here. The legendary American celebrity who was renowned for his role in the television series, Columbo suffered a car accident. Falk endured a head injury, as his car ended in a crash due to his problem with Alzheimer’s dementia. Research also highlights that the car collision rates stand at 47% among 30 people with the degenerative disorder.
Behavioral troubles are another hint. Typical signs include psychosis, sleep disturbances, agitation, depression, and aggression. The prevalence rate of dementia-based depression ranges between 9% and 68%. Antidepressant or antipsychotic drugs further expose these individuals to the danger of car collisions.
Research reveals that 50% of dementia patients on such medications end up in a road accident. At the same time, dementia-related anxiety surfaces between 38% and 72% prevalence rate. It sabotages cognitive functioning as well and links with agitation. Additionally, a quarter of all the dementia patients experience sleep disturbances.
Wandering is also common among patients developing dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association warns that getting lost or wandering aimlessly can affect a person during any stage of dementia. Restlessness amps up and gives way to wandering and stress, as a person fails to recognize a person or place.
Approximately, 60% of the patients are likely to wander and get lost. This often happens repeatedly. A case in point is Chuck Springer, a retired trucker with dementia who got lost in 2008. He strolled out of his home under the influence of the disorder and couldn’t be found despite a thorough search. It was only in 2010 that a deer hunter found skeletal remains in the wood that belonged to Springer.
A passive demeanor or apathy is another symptom. Consequently, an individual lacks energy and enters in an inactive mood. He might disengage from his preferred pastime activities and pay diminished heed to his hobbies.
As energy levels take a dip, one might want to live under a rock with no to zero interest in socializing. Listlessness also accompanies aging. However, senior people without dementia have apathy only once. Moreover, only 2-5% of this category experience impassiveness. On the other hand, around 50-70% dementia victims have apathy.
Early dementia corresponds with mild confusion. As one notices slips in his memory and judgment lapses, confusion is bound to occur. Other subtle signs such as disorientation and mood fluctuation add to the bewilderment.
A prominent feature of confusion is that it is ‘acute,’ whereby, it is sudden and occurs only for a short time. P. Gwyther, co-author of The Alzheimer’s Action Plan: A Family Guide explains this. She says, “The real issue with the AD is the perception of time. Five minutes can seem like five hours for someone with the AD, so a husband may think his wife has been gone for hours or even weeks, even if it’s just been a few minutes.”
All these symptoms merge to show another subtle sign. These result in a person misplacing his belongings and having a tough time in recovering them. This problem mushrooms into developing the habit of hoarding and even stealing things.
The underlying reasoning behind this is that people aim to preserve and protect their things. It is an attempt to keep the situation under their control. A person is also likely to accuse others of stealing his stuff that he can’t remember where he put away.
Inability to adapt to change
A person becomes fearful, as these early dementia symptoms surface. Since he cannot recall simple things or forgets someone’s name, he prefers having a routine. This explains why he despises change. His routine encases him in a feeling of safety. Change, however, runs in the opposite direction.
Dr. Scott Schreiber, Chiropractic Physician, and Board Certified in Rehabilitation, and Clinical Nutrition ascertains this factor as an early sign. He says that there is a dearth of desire to derail one from the daily schedule to try back something new.
In a nutshell, these signs constitute the early symptoms of dementia. It is essential to be mindful of them so that an early diagnosis helps to reduce the symptoms.