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

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Early signs of dementia

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.

Factors with may increase the risk 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.

If it is not dementia what else could it be

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

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 of dementia

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

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.

Find out more about Dementia


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  • What the research says: Early signs and diagnosis