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6 possible signs of dementia

Patsy Westcott / 21 May 2018

Occasionally fazed by using the washing machine? Or perhaps you struggle to recall things you once knew or remember people’s names. Could it be dementia?

If you can’t remember how to get home or where you are in your own neighbourhood, it could be a red flag

‘Although memory loss is the most common and best-known symptom of dementia, it’s not the only one or even the most serious,’ says Gemma Jolly, Alzheimer’s Society Knowledge Manager. ‘Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have dementia, but if you recognise them in yourself or someone close to you – speak to a GP.’  

Unlimited access to a qualified GP with Saga Health Insurance - you'll have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to a GP consultation service. Find out more about our GP phone service.

Getting lost

It’s easy to get lost somewhere new, but if you can’t remember how to get home or where you are in your own neighbourhood, it could be a red flag. ‘The damage caused by Alzheimer’s can lead to confusion or disorientation, even in familiar environments,’ Jolly says.

Common causes of memory loss and forgetfulness

Struggling to make a cuppa

Dementia affects the ability to manage tasks, aka ‘executive function’. The result? ‘A struggle to complete everyday jobs, even ones you usually do without thinking such as using the washing machine or making a cup of tea,’ Jolly comments.

Trouble finding words

We all struggle for the right word or a name sometimes, but if it happens often it could be ‘aphasia’, a characteristic of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. It’s not that you don’t know the word or recognise the person but that damage to the brain makes it hard to recall it, or them.

Learn more about aphasia

Misjudging distances

‘Many of us are more hesitant in new environments and take stairs more slowly as we get older,’ says Jolly. But problems due to damage to the brain’s visual system, such as finding it hard to judge how many steps there are and where the next one is, or mistaking a blue rug for a pond, may be more worrying.

Lapse of good manners

Out-of-character insults such as calling someone a fat pig can be due to frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which affects brain areas linked with personality, behaviour and language, leading to loss of inhibitions or emotional control. Meanwhile mood changes – withdrawal, becoming unusually sad, anxious or losing interest in activities and people – are linked with several kinds of dementia.

A new habit of taking naps

Normal changes in sleeping patterns that come with age can be worse in dementia. ‘People may wake up often during the night, be confused by whether it’s day or night, and sleep more during the day,’ explains Jolly. Nightmares, restless legs and ‘acting out’ dreams, meanwhile, can be signs of dementia with Lewy bodies or Parkinson’s dementia.

For more information on normal ageing vs dementia go to Alzheimer’s Society National Dementia Helpline is 0300 222 11 22

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.