Dementia is an uncomfortable subject to talk about, particularly when it affects a loved one.
Throughout the world, there’s something of a stigma surrounding dementia. That certainly isn’t helpful, since the syndrome is extremely common. An estimated 47 million people worldwide are living with some type of dementia, per the World Health Organization, and that number will likely increase to 75 million by 2030. The WHO expects the number to triple by 2050.
Contrary to popular misconception, dementia isn’t a standardized syndrome. Different types of dementia affect the brain in very different ways, and as a result, some people ignore the early symptoms in themselves or their loved ones. Generally, dementia is progressive, so it gets worse over time, but early detection can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life.
Before we discuss some of these early warning signs, however, we should note that dementias share symptoms with other conditions. Only a qualified physician can make an actual diagnosis, and articles like this one aren’t intended as a replacement for a visit to the doctor’s office.
“Sound bytes don’t work for these types of discussions,” Dr. Roselyn G. Smith tells HealthyWay. Smith is a clinical psychologist and Fulbright specialist working in Pinecrest, Florida. “The research is far more complex than that—we can’t just take one symptom and follow it to a diagnosis.”
With that said, Smith notes that awareness is crucial, particularly for people with elderly loved ones. By obtaining a diagnosis in the early stages of dementia, patients can start treatment earlier, and in some cases, stop the progression of symptoms entirely.
Unfortunately, dementia isn’t a simple condition, and there are a lot of misconceptions. For example…
1. Memory loss is a common symptom, but different types of memory loss can mean different things.
Memory loss is closely associated with dementia, so it’s the symptom that most people think about when considering the diseases that cause dementia—Alzheimer’s, for example. However, physicians now know that memory loss doesn’t always occur in precisely the same way.
“With an Alzheimer’s type dementia, some of the earliest indicators are short-term memory loss—that’s what’s responsible for asking the same question over and over within a few minutes, or even a few hours,” Smith says. “The long-term memory can still be very sharp and intact into the more moderate to more advanced stages [of Alzheimer’s].”