One in three people over the age of 65 will develop Dementia during their lifetime. More than 320,000 of the 400,000 people living in care homes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have Dementia or severe memory problems, the Alzheimer’s Society charity estimates.
How is Dementia defined?
The Alzheimer’s Society describes Dementia as a “set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. These changes are often small to start with, but for someone with dementia they have become severe enough to affect daily life”. Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather an overall term describing a person’s lack of ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular Dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common type of Dementia. However, there are many other conditions that can cause the development of Dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.
As a Care Worker, it is not your responsibility to try to diagnose residents with Dementia. However, as you see the individual on a regular basis, you are well placed to pay attention to any changes. Ensuring a GP visits residents on a regular basis can help to maintain their general health and well-being. The earlier symptoms of Dementia are recognised, the more proactive you can be in understanding and taking care of the individual.
Identifying Signs of Dementia
Here are some signs to look out for that are common in individuals with the early stages of Dementia:
- Memory loss that prevents daily functioning
Forgetting recently learnt information is the most common sign of Dementia. You should pay close attention to residents who ask for the same information over and over again, such as the times of an event or the day of the week. It is a cause for concern when an individual forgets something frequently, rather than occasionally forgetting someone’s birthday, for example. If you do recognise this behaviour in a resident, ensure you are patient and understanding when they do forget something or struggle with understanding their surroundings.
- Difficulty with speaking and writing
Another early symptom of Dementia is struggling to communicate thoughts in conversation and on paper. A person with Dementia may have difficulty explaining something to somebody else or finding the right words to express themselves. Having a conversation with someone who has Dementia can be difficult, often taking longer than usual to conclude and follow the purpose. People with Alzheimer’s disease may have trouble following or joining a conversation. For example, they may stop during a conversation and forget that they have frequently repeated themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
- Difficulty completing normal tasks or completing problems
A subtle shift in the ability to complete normal tasks may indicate that somebody has early signs of Dementia. This usually starts with difficulty doing more complicated tasks such as managing a budget or playing games that have a lot of rules. Along with the struggle to complete familiar tasks, they may struggle to learn how to do new things or follow new routines.
Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may struggle following a familiar recipe or counting money. It is also likely that they will have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
- Withdrawal from Social Activities
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may start to remove themselves from social activities and games that other residents are interested in. They may have trouble remembering how to complete a favourite hobby or join in with a game they used to play frequently. Watch out for residents who begin to exclude themselves from other people and lose interest in games and social activities.
- Drastic change in Personality
The mood and personalities of people living with Dementia can change dramatically. Due to the symptoms of Dementia, individuals can become easily confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone and are not familiar with their surroundings.
- Lack of Spatial Awareness and Visual Problems
Having problems with vision is a common sign of Dementia. Individuals may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining colour or contrast. Residents in the early stages of Dementia often interpret different coloured surfaces as steps or fail to recognise different surface levels.
Know the difference between Dementia and Old Age
There are differences between simple age-related changes and signs of Dementia. Whilst sometimes forgetting which word to use in a conversation is often just a sign of getting older, having difficulty even following the topic of a conversation is a more serious problem that may be linked to Dementia. Whilst momentarily forgetting which day it is and remembering later is something that happens to most people occasionally, forgetting and losing track of the season completely is a common symptom of Dementia.
Here are some of the key differences you should be aware of to ensure you do not mistake behaviour due to old age with Dementia symptoms:
Signs of Alzheimer’s/dementia Age-related changes
Constant Poor Judgment Occasionally making the wrong decision
Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting the day of the week
Being unable to follow a conversation Forgetting the right word to describe something
Misplacing things and being unable to Losing things from time to time
retrace steps to find them