Dementia is a cognitive condition that affects around 900,000 people in the UK.
The term “dementia” does not refer to a single specific condition, but rather to a collection of symptoms that occur as a result of a disease such as Alzheimer’s, which damages the nerve cells that transmit information from the brain.
It is especially common among the elderly, with one in 14 people over the age of 65 experiencing the condition and one in six people over the age of 80, with women statistically more likely to be affected than men.
Everyone experiences the condition differently, but typical dementia symptoms fall into three categories; memory, cognitive and communication problems.
What are the most common symptoms of dementia?
The five most common symptoms are:
- Struggling with decision making and reasoning
- Difficulty understanding time and place, such as getting up in the middle of the night for work
- Difficulty communicating effectively, such as not being able to find the right words
- They repeat themselves a lot and find it hard to keep up with the conversation
- Changes in personality and behavior, mood swings, and experiencing anxiety or depression
Because these symptoms are similar to those associated with natural decline due to the interference of old age, dementia can be difficult to diagnose.
One study, published by the Alzheimer’s Society earlier this year, revealed that as many as a quarter of sufferers will take at least two years before their condition is finally diagnosed.
The charity surveyed 1,019 dementia patients and their carers about their experiences with the diagnostic procedure and found that the main reason for not getting the help they needed was mistaking symptoms for the natural aging process, which was the case in 42 per cent of cases.
Some 26 per cent of respondents said they had not been formally diagnosed in two years, and a quarter added that they had already reached the breaking point before their dementia was confirmed.
“Asking the same question over and over again isn’t called aging, it’s called a disease,” said Kate Lee, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Society, urging potential sufferers or those concerned about a loved one’s apparent deterioration to come forward.
“If you’re worried about yourself or someone you love, come to the Alzheimer’s Society for support. The raw results of our survey published today show how dangerous it can be to fight the symptoms of dementia alone and put off getting help.
“Yes, being diagnosed can be daunting – I know I was terrified when my mum was diagnosed. But it’s worth it – over 9 out of 10 people with dementia tell us they’ve benefited from being diagnosed. This has given them crucial access to treatment, care and support, and valuable time to plan for the future.
“With the pandemic causing diagnosis rates to drop, seeking help is more important than ever. You don’t have to face dementia alone, we are here to support everyone affected by dementia.”
What are the early symptoms of dementia?
To address the problem identified by its findings, the Alzheimer’s Society has developed a new checklist in partnership with the Royal College of GPs to help people identify the symptoms of dementia and encourage them to get diagnosed and seek help.
It includes assessing whether people suffer from memory problems, such as having difficulty finding the right words or repeating questions and phrases; experiencing problems in everyday life, such as having trouble paying bills or getting lost in public places; and behavioral or emotional problems such as aggression, withdrawal or inappropriate behavior.
Dr Jill Rasmussen, Clinical Representative for Dementia at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “It is extremely important for patients, their families and GPs that interviews with a potential diagnosis of dementia are conducted in a timely and effective manner.
“Developed in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, the new checklist is a simple, free tool to help patients and their families communicate their symptoms and concerns clearly during an often stressful visit.
“This resource can really help identify people who need referral for a more detailed assessment and diagnosis of their issues.
“We are asking anyone concerned about possible dementia symptoms to use the checklist and share it with their primary care team.”
You can access the checklist here and find more information about dementia on the Alzheimer’s Society and NHS websites.