How to spot the early signs of dementia in loved ones this Christmas – and what to do about it
CHRISTMAS is a time for laughter and celebration for all the family.
And it’s also a time when generations gather together to enjoy festive cheer.
But if you’ve not seen some of your relatives for a while, you might notice a change in their personality come Christmas.
Experts at Dementia UK explain that the festive season can be difficult for both those with dementia and people who are caring for friends or family members with the condition.
And it can also be a time when you may spot new or emerging symptoms in someone you love, so it’s helpful to know what could be a dementia red flag.
For the most part, the main symptoms are split into three categories, these include memory problems, cognitive ability and communication.
The NHS states that the early symptoms of the illness include:
- memory loss
- difficulty concentrating
- finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
- struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
- being confused about time and place
- mood changes
Guidance states that these symptoms usually start off mild and get worse gradually over time.
Luca Rado, the co-founder of Helpd Ltd – specialists in live-in home care – previously said that if these symptoms start to happen on a regular basis, it can indicate an early problem.
Another early sign, he added, is a loss of interest in day-to-day activities and hobbies that were previously enjoyed.
“This is often because dementia affects thought and memory and so the individual may not even consider partaking in the hobby, simply because the thought to do it is no longer there,” he said.
He added that making rash decisions can also be an early warning sign.
Situations where quick decisions are second nature can become a struggle for those who are suffering from dementia.
Any unusual, rash actions that are out of character and a potential cause for concern are also typical for those with dementia, he said.
Luca explained that an example of this would be deciding to take essential belongings to a charity shop or wearing clothing that isn’t appropriate for the weather.
How is dementia treated?
There is no specific treatment for dementia and no way to reverse damage to the brain that has already occurred.
However, treatment may help slow down the progression of the condition and the main aim is to treat the underlying cause to help prevent further problems, such as strokes.
Medicines and lifestyle changes will be encouraged including eating healthily, losing weight if necessary, stopping smoking, getting fit and cutting down on alcohol.
Support such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy is also beneficial, but despite treatment dementia can significantly shorten life expectancy.
The average survival time from diagnosis is around four years and most people will die either from complications of dementia, such as pneumonia, or from a subsequent stroke, the NHS says.
Poor judgement also encompasses spatial awareness, and therefore clumsiness.
The NHS added that while these are common signs of dementia, different types can affect people differently and everyone will experience symptoms in their own way.
What to do
If you think your loved one is becoming increasingly forgetful, the NHS says you should encourage them to speak to their GP.
You can offer to go along with them to their appointment in order to support them.
This means you can also help recall what has been discussed.
The NHS says: “A GP will ask how the symptoms have developed over time.
“They may also do a memory test and physical examination.
“Blood tests may be done to check if the symptoms are being caused by another condition.
“If other causes can be ruled out, the GP will usually refer your friend or relative to a memory clinic, or other specialist service, where they may have more assessments to confirm whether they have dementia.”
Tips for the festive season
Christmas can be stressful and emotional for those impacted by dementia.
Admiral nurses at Dementia UK have said there are things you can do to have the happy and relaxing festive season you deserve.
The first thing to do, they say, is plan ahead.
Write a list of out of hours contacts for services like the GP, emergency dentist, pharmacies, mental health services and social services, so you can relax knowing you’re prepared if anything happens.
The nurses also said you should try and avoid overstimulation, as well as sticking to a routine.
Importantly, they added that caring for someone with dementia can be challenging, and with that in mind, they said you should be kind to yourself.
If you need someone to talk to, you can call the Admiral Nurse dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 – it’s open every day apart from December 25.
If you’re looking for someone to talk to on Christmas Day, you can call Silver Line on 0800 470 8090.
In the event of an emergency, always call 999 or visit your nearest A&E department.