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Early Onset Dementia Symptoms - What To Look Out For

Are you concerned that you, or a loved one or colleague may be showing the early signs of dementia? While the symptoms can be similar to other factors, such as stress or menopause, if you are seriously concerned, it is always worth checking with a GP.

The early signs of dementia are referred to as early onset dementia and shouldn’t be confused with young onset dementia which is when people are diagnosed with the condition under the age of 65.

Early signs of dementia may go unnoticed or be put down to aging as they can be very mild and gradual to start.

Mild cognitive impairment

Family and friends are often the first to become aware of slight changes in a person’s cognitive ability or behaviour. Where the signs observed are greater than expected for age, but do not affect daily living, then a possible diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be given. MCI is not the same as dementia and some symptoms may improve particularly if any underlying cause is treated. MCI can though increase the risk of developing dementia later on.

Some of the early noticeable symptoms that may be indicative of MCI or of early onset dementia are below. A person may not experience all of these, and symptoms may fluctuate depending on time of day, fatigue and stress levels.

Early symptoms of dementia

  • Short term memory loss - A person with the early signs of dementia may struggle to recall new information or recent events.

  • Increased difficulties with date, time and planning - Forgetting important dates and appointments. There are lots of useful memory strategies and aids that can support with this.

  • Disorientation - A person may start to get lost in familiar places, start misplacing items or put them in the wrong place. Signage around the home can support with this and GPS trackers and apps can help with maintaining independence when out and about.

  • Repetition - This may be observed as repeatedly asking for the same information or repeating a task or routine.

  • Word or name finding difficulties

  • Reduced focus and attention when completing tasks and therefore leaving things unfinished

  • Communication difficulties - Struggling to follow conversation, find the right words or losing track mid-way through speech. The person may need more support, time to process and a quiet environment to focus.

  • Low mood - Lack of interest in daily living and activities they previously enjoyed, this may present as low mood but can be an early noticeable symptom of MCI.

  • Behavioural changes - These changes may present as depression, anxiety or reduced confidence as the person starts to withdraw, particularly from social activities. Often it is due to a fear of making mistakes and with support and encouragement a person may regain confidence to do the things they used to.

Tips for helping people to live well with MCI or early onset dementia

Symptoms of MCI or early onset dementia can affect everyone differently. Some of the earlier symptoms are usually fairly mild and should not have too much of an impact on daily life. The anxiety around the symptoms is likely to cause more difficulty than the actual symptoms so it is important to provide lots of reassurance and encouragement to the person to enable to them to continue to manage independently.

Simple memory strategies can help to support a person, such as time and day clocks, calendars and lists, as well as making using of dementia friendly technology like smart phone apps.

It is key to stay socially, mentally and physically active and to continue doing things that you’re used to doing, even if adaptations or support are needed.

It is also important in the early stages that conversations are had around plans for future care whilst the person still has capacity and insight to do this. Try to ensure that legal documents are in place such as Advance Statements (for health and care) and Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) and Wills.

Get help and support - even prior to a diagnosis

Spotting the early signs of dementia can be a worrying time, but a dementia diagnosis does not change who you are. For information, help and support on living well with dementia, even before a diagnosis has taken place, get in touch with a member of our Wayfinding team today.

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