Signs of dementia

If you’re worried you or a loved one may be experiencing some of the early signs of dementia, this article might help.  Here you’ll find information on the common dementia signs and symptoms, and ways to help manage behaviour changes.

There are some common symptoms of dementia, but it’s important to remember everyone is different and may display different signs. 
Many of the early signs of dementia may be quite subtle – so much so that you may not even notice them until the dementia has become more progressed. 

Common signs of dementia

Dementia symptoms depend on the type of dementia and its progression, but some common dementia signs include:

  • Memory loss, especially for more recent events (short term memory). In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may misplace objects such as their car keys, forget what they were planning to do, or not remember a recent family event. However, they will often be able to recall detailed information about their life as a child (long term memory). As their dementia progresses, their long term memory may also fade. 
  • Difficulty finding their way around, especially in new or unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Problems finding the correct words or understanding what others are saying to them.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Problems learning new ideas or skills.
  • Difficulties with thinking, such as using logic during a discussion.
  • Problems in perception and judging distance, such as missing the edge of a chair when attempting to sit down.
  • Changes to physical abilities, such as difficulty coordinating their movement during chores.
  • Psychological changes, such as becoming irritable, saying or doing inappropriate things, or becoming suspicious or aggressive.

It’s important to remember that the above dementia signs and symptoms could be caused by other health issues such as stress, depression, diabetes or infections, so if you’re concerned, it’s really important to speak to your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. 

Later-stage signs of dementia

In the later stages of dementia your loved one may have severe:

  • Cognitive problems, including failure to recognise close family members.
  • Psychological problems, including confusion, agitation, delusions, hallucinations.
  • Communication problems, including difficulties understanding what is being said to them. 
  • Physical problems, including loss of speech, immobility, incontinence and frailty.

Changes in behaviour 

Throughout the journey of dementia, psychological and behavioural changes can occur. For example, your loved one may become irritable, aggressive or suspicious. These are not so much symptoms as indications that your loved one is struggling to cope and understand what is happening to them. 
Sometimes changes in behaviour may be caused by changes in the brain, other times environmental factors, events or emotions can trigger the behaviour. If carers or family members can work out what’s causing the behaviour change, it may help them work out ways to prevent it from happening again. 

A person living with dementia may feel embarrassed or frustrated that they’re no longer able to do the things they used to, or they may become frightened if they don’t recognise certain people or places. Read more about tips for talking to someone with dementia

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Find out more about our person first approach to dementia care. 

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Signs of depression in someone living with dementia

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, almost half of all people (40-50 per cent) who live with Alzheimer’s disease experience symptoms of depression. Read more about the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia here

While the signs of depression in someone living with dementia can be really hard to spot, some typical signs and symptoms include:
  • Increased confusion
  • Loss of energy
  • Expressing feelings of sadness or worthless
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy doing
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Being unusually emotional or agitated.
couple with signs of dementia kissing hands

What to do if someone you love is experiencing signs of dementia

If you’re worried someone you love is showing some of the common signs of dementia, the first thing you need to know is that you’re not alone, and you don’t have to deal with it by yourself. 
A good starting point is to talk to your GP, who can refer you to a neurologist, geriatrician or psychiatrist. Read more about dementia tests

If you’re caring for an aging loved one, or someone with dementia, it can be hard to know where to turn to for help. If you want advice from a real person who can help guide you and connect you with the right support, call the Bupa Aged Care Support Line between 8am – 6pm, Monday to Friday, on 1800 780 038. It’s free, and available to everyone.

You can also call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
Dementia is not only difficult for the person living with it, it can also be really hard on the person caring for them, so don’t forget that your health and wellbeing is really important too. 

Read our tips for maintaining close bonds with someone living with dementia, and some frequently asked questions, including, “should I tell my loved one they have dementia?” 

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