Early signs and diagnosis of dementia
For many people who develop dementia, the early stages are hugely difficult: feelings of uncertainty, denial, confusion and a drop in self-confidence all combine to place strain on relationships and throw chaos into regular daily life. This section looks at early signs of dementia and how getting a diagnosis of dementia can be a crucial first step in obtaining support to cope and come to terms with life with dementia.
Common early signs
Early signs of dementia
It’s not easy to spot the early signs of dementia. If a person is struggling to remember a name, follow a conversation or recall what they did yesterday, many of us may put it down to the fact that the person is getting older. But it may well be a warning that they are in the early stages of dementia.
What factors increase the risk of dementia?
Anyone can develop dementia but some people are more at risk than others. Risk can depend on a combination of age, genetic and environmental factors. However, it is important to be aware that a person who appears to have some of the risk factors for dementia will not necessarily go on to develop the condition. Avoiding the risk factors will not guarantee that a person won't develop dementia.
What other illnesses could it be?
Dementia-like symptoms can be caused by other conditions, many of which are treatable. Depression, nutritional deficiencies, side-effects from medications and emotional distress can all produce symptoms that can be mistaken as early signs of dementia.
Why early diagnosis of dementia is important
An early diagnosis of dementia can help people plan ahead while they are still able to make important decisions on their care and support needs and on financial and legal matters. It also helps them and their families to receive practical information, advice and guidance.
Getting a diagnosis
It can be difficult to diagnose dementia, particularly in the early stages. A number of tests and assessments may be necessary to achieve a definitive diagnosis and to eliminate other illnesses with dementia-like symptoms. Most people initially will see their GP to discuss concerns.
Diagnosis when someone has sensory loss
If a person has a sensory loss, it may make it harder to recognise the onset and progression of dementia and even ‘mask’ dementia.
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following download you will need a free MySCIE account:
- What the research says: Early signs and diagnosis
Useful links Open
The Alzheimer’s Society produces over 80 factsheets on all sorts of topics related to dementia, including many that relate to early signs and diagnosis, including Risk factors for dementia (450), Assessment and diagnosis (426), After a diagnosis (471), and The progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (458).
The Dementia Diaries project involves people living with dementia keeping an audio record of their daily life with dementia. Contributions cover a number of themes, including diagnosis. The project is the work of the non-profit communications organisation On Our Radar working with DEEP.
The healthtalk website contains stories from 31 carers of people with dementia, some presented in videos, some in audio recordings. The stories cover a wide range early signs of dementia and getting the diagnosis.
NHS Choices describes itself as the ‘online front door to the NHS’. It is the UK’s biggest health website and includes an A–Z of health conditions, including dementia, as well as explaining about treatments and how the health system works. The Dementia Guide on this site includes a section on Getting a dementia diagnosis, Benefits of early dementia diagnosis, and What to do if you’ve just been diagnosed with dementia.
Unlocking diagnosis: The key to improving the lives of people with dementia.
This All-Party Parliamentary Group of Dementia publication reports on the APPG’s 2012 inquiry into differing diagnosis rates – and the barriers for lifting these – around the UK.