Everyone has those moments now and then: forgetting which day of the week it is or where you put your car keys. It happens to us all. Forgetfulness is a fact of a life. But when a loved one begins to struggle to recall what they just had for breakfast or where they are driving to, it may be an indication of something more serious.
The difference between everyday forgetfulness and significant memory loss can be subtle and difficult to spot. For Barbara, the first sign that her partner David had early onset Alzheimer’s was a change in the way he was driving. ‘David always loved to drive… I could see he was having huge difficulty with parking which had never been an issue for him before’.
Then she began to notice other changes in his behaviour such as forgetting everyday things like where the cutlery was kept in the kitchen and where they were going when they left the house.
‘It did take about a month or so to get a diagnosis after noticing the changes, because I wasn’t completely sure and didn’t want to label him straight away. Comparing him to others living with dementia I thought, “No, he’s not that bad.”
Even with someone you know well, it can be hard to know which behaviours are effects of ageing or fatigue and which might suggest dementia. Research suggests that only 20-50% of people living with dementia are recognised and diagnosed in primary care.
Recognising the signs
Memory lapses alone are not a clear indication that someone might be developing dementia. The person might also show changes in their language, ability to communicate, focus or reasoning.
Some of the more common symptoms of dementia onset include:
- poor short-term memory (remembering things from years ago but not minutes or hours ago)
- difficulty doing everyday things like preparing a meal
- personality changes
- difficulty following conversations
- becoming depressed or withdrawn
- difficulty with abstract thinking
- poor judgment
- becoming disoriented or confused about time and place
If a loved one is experiencing more than one of the symptoms above and doesn’t seem to be improving, it might be time to visit a doctor. They will be able to assess the symptoms and refer the person to a neurologist if appropriate.