‘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.’
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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
‘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 alzheimers.org.uk. Alzheimer’s Society National Dementia Helpline is 0300 222 11 22