Christmas is often recognised as the time of the year for a catch up with relatives from all corners of the world.
With many seeing loved ones for the first time in a while, changes can be more stark than if they were to see them every day. And it is the perfect opportunity to spot dementia, according to John Ramsay, the CEO of Shift 8.
His company is behind an interactive light game for people living with dementia – a devastating disease that robs victims of their memories. Mr Ramsay said those who live with dementia can experience a range of symptoms in the early stages, with various types of dementia affecting people differently.
Here he has compiled a list of seven of the biggest signs of dementia to look out for when you see your relatives this Christmas.
With many seeing loved ones for the first time in a while at Christmas, changes can be more stark than if they were to see them every day/
This is one of the hardest symptoms to define, as people’s ability to remember events and conversations naturally vary. However, while anyone can be forgetful, it can become apparent when the loss of memory starts suddenly, or perhaps has grown worse over the past year or so.
Looking back on having lived with my father, who was diagnosed with dementia when I was 12, one of the elements that now stands out is how he would often forget what had just happened, relying on us to tell him what to do next.
While memory loss affects people differently, you may notice your relative can recall a surprising range of facts or experiences from their earlier years, but will be forgetful about recent events.
DEMENTIA: THE FACTS
A global concern
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain. There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia. Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
How many people are affected?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million. In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia. Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
Is there a cure?
Currently there is no cure for dementia but new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
This is a symptom that is often overlooked, as many mainly associate changes with memory, however movement can also change.
My dad had always enjoyed walking, but he started consistently walking with purpose from one room of our house to another and up and down our local street all day long from a very early stage.
It did become very draining for the whole family trying to look out for him and make sure he was safe. And it is the perfect opportunity to spot dementia, according to John Ramsay, the CEO of Shift 8. His company is behind an interactive light game for people living with dementia
This is a difficult element to observe in a relative who you don’t see often, but hoarding old items or buying a lot of the same thing can also suggest early signs of dementia.
Often, they will forget they have already bought something, so will go out and get the exact same thing. My dad was constantly making copies of the house keys and buying exactly the same items from the shops more than three times a day.
HEARING LOSS LINKED TO DEMENTIA
Hearing loss may be a sign of dementia, according to research published last week. But a hearing aid could help prevent cognitive decline and dementia by improving verbal communication and keeping the brain healthy, said experts.
The study found a small association between age-related hearing loss (ARHL) and increased risk for cognitive decline. This includes executive function – which is the equivalent of a CEO of the brain – and episodic memory – autobiographical events such as times, places.
Hearing loss was also linked to slower processing speed, cognitive impairment and dementia, Trinity College Dublin scientists found. It is estimated two-thirds of the over 65s suffer hearing loss and previous studies have shown ARHL precedes the onset of dementia by five to 10 years.
Experts suggested the lack of mental stimulation experienced by those who are hard of hearing may play a role in declined cognitive function. One of the most challenging symptoms to come to terms with is the mood swings that can develop with early onset dementia.
For those living with dementia, one of the biggest frustrations can come from feeling an emotion, but being unsure from where it originated. For most people, if they have had a bad journey in to work, for example, they could be in a bad mood for the rest of the day, but they would understand why.
Those with dementia cannot remember the issue in the first place. As hard as it might be, it is important to try and avoid arguing and remind yourself that their anger stems from a frustration they cannot control.
Difficulty with new environments
Routine is a key element for anyone on their dementia journey, and when this is changed, they can become agitated and uncomfortable.
Christmas can be a challenging time of year for those living with dementia, as they are often in an unfamiliar home, surrounded by people who aren’t part of their daily routine, and this can be overwhelming.
Loss of subtleties of language
Another early sign of dementia is a change in the way the person communicates.
Linked to a change in memory, those who have dementia can struggle when communicating, often getting lost in conversations when it involves a topic they are unfamiliar with, or struggling to recall the right words when discussing an idea.
Changes to these relatives can be in general very slow interspersed with the occasional dramatic event. It’s human nature to get used to someone’s behaviour, however major changes in their actions can remind you of how far the journey has gone.
All the symptoms above will show themselves subtly at first, and can often be missed.