Know the warning signs
Dementia can cause changes in abilities, behaviour and communication that affect an individual’s daily life. These changes – the ABC’s of Dementia – include, but are not limited to, memory loss.
Becoming aware of dementia and the changes in abilities, behaviour and communication it can cause improves our ability to access support and early diagnosis should we notice these signs in ourselves or others we care for.
Abilities – Changes in abilities can involve the loss of ability to perform basic tasks or a sudden struggle to complete an action that was once routine. Warning signs that involve changes in abilities include:
- Memory loss that affects day to day abilities – This warning sign may be noticed when an individual forgets information, asks the same questions repeatedly, or has difficulty recalling familiar objects or people.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks – This refers to examples like mixing up the order of steps, having difficulty with sequences, or forgetting entire components of a task.
- Disorientation in time and space – This warning sign can affect both a person’s ability to navigate even familiar spaces and their understanding of concepts of time such as days of the week or time of day.
- Misplacing things – Incidents are not just out of absentmindedness or distraction but occur repeatedly and can cause confusion or frustration when individuals cannot retrace their steps to find a lost item.
Behaviours – Preferences and interests can shift over time, but core personality traits generally should not. When dementia causes changes in behaviour, it may impact relationships, increase risk of social isolation, or potentially lead to a dangerous situation. Warning signs that involve changes in behaviour include:
- Impaired judgement – Impaired judgment is not just about the occasional spontaneous decision but involves a marked change in regular decision-making processes or out of the ordinary behaviour that is uncharacteristic.
- Changes in mood and behaviour – Varied mood swings and other sudden and unexplainable changes in behaviour can be an example of this warning sign.
- Changes in personality – Out of the ordinary feelings of confusion, suspicion and paranoia can be indicators of changes in personality.
- Loss of initiative – Someone experiencing this warning sign may be unusually passive, apathetic, or withdrawn. They may seem unusually disinterested in hobbies and social activities.
Communication – Changes in communication can affect conversation and an individual’s ability to understand the words and world around them. Often these changes will be apparent when vocabulary decreases, common words become difficult to understand, or sentences suddenly seem hard to follow. Interpreting signage, symbols and sentences can also become difficult. Warning signs that involve changes in communication include:
- Problems with language – Difficulty finding words may cause individuals to substitute incorrect words or create new words in an effort to connect.
- Problems with abstract thinking – Examples may include difficulty understanding which coins equal a certain total while paying at a store or struggling with interpreting symbols on stylized or abstract signage.