Does my loved one have dementia?

How to spot the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As the world becomes more aware, and in many cases fearful, of a loved one getting dementia, the more we are all on the lookout for it. But how do we know if a loved one is living with dementia? The only real way to know for sure is to visit your GP, and following a few tests, they may give a diagnosis of dementia and a series of treatments and lifestyle changes that may help slow down the progression.

Firstly, a word of caution: as you read through the following signs and symptoms of memory loss and dementia, you may start to get worried as you see that many apply to you or your loved one. Do not worry, everyone forgets things to a greater or lesser extent, and even if your memory loss is a genuine problem, it may be caused by something other than dementia. So, keep things in context, and if you really do believe you have a problem then see your GP as soon as possible.

It may even prove to be a really positive visit, as the GP may identify a cause of your memory loss that does not involve Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or other neurodegenerative problems, and instead is able to supply a complete cure to your condition.

Memory loss that impacts on your daily life

Continuously forgetting events, dates, or appointments even if they are important. This usually applies to events that are quite recent, while events from the distant past are still easily remembered. As with all the following, if you have always been forgetful, take this into account.

Not keeping up with conversations

This can take a couple of different forms:

  • You lose your train of thought whilst you are talking or end up repeating yourself.
  • You find yourself struggling to follow what someone else is talking about and lose the thread of the conversation.
  • You may also start struggling to follow what is happening when watching TV programmes or films.

Forgetting the names of objects you are really familiar with

The names of clocks, cookers, tin openers, or any manner of everyday objects just seem to evade you. You may start calling it ‘thingy’ or describing it by what it does rather than using its proper name.

Losing things or putting them back in the wrong place

We can all give examples of losing the car keys or TV remote, but sometimes this becomes more serious. If you are continuously misplacing lots of items in a way that you never used to, then maybe you should be concerned. If you are putting the milk in the washing machine and the back door key in the fridge, this could be an early indicator.

Difficulty judging distances

Dementia can have many impacts on the brain including loss of depth perception or capacity to judge distances. This could show itself by missing the table with cups, tripping over things, difficulty on stairs or whilst out and about.

Difficulty distinguishing colours

Another symptom is loss of colour perception. If there are similar shades next to each other, you may find it hard to identify the different ones. For example, a white light switch on a white wall may blend in, or matching door handles on a cupboard door may disappear.

Loss of orientation of time and place

Losing orientation of time and place is a very common symptom of dementia and this may be the first time you really start to worry there is a problem. Again, you need to keep this in context and consider the big picture: if they have recently retired and they confuse Wednesday with Friday then this may be the result of one day bending in to the next, rather than anything more serious.

Difficulty solving problems or managing complex tasks

If they used to be exceptional at complex problem solving and are now unable to follow a simple cooking process, it could be a sign of dementia. Dementia can affect your ability to follow a plan or process, or simply to remember how things work.

Lack of judgement

This is another symptom you need to keep in context: making a poor financial decision may be a symptom of dementia or it could mean they have been the victim of a financial scam aimed at the elderly. One instance of this doesn’t indicate dementia, but if it is becoming a pattern or habit, consider seeking help. It could take the form of buying an unneeded vacuum cleaner, paying the window cleaner twice, buying 34 pork chops or wearing weather inappropriate clothing.

Mood changes

If it seems your loved one has undergone a drastic change in personality, this could be cause for concern. If they are becoming increasingly moody, depressed, fearful, or withdrawn when once they were the opposite there may be a problem. Sometimes it is the opposite, whereby a family member who used to be quite shy and conservative is completely disinhibited and starts saying inappropriate things. The key thing is that the current behaviour is vastly different to their normal behaviour.

Becoming less sociable

Along with mood changes, you may notice that your relative or friend has lost interest in hobbies or activities that they used to enjoy, for example going to visit friends, playing with the grandchildren, or engaging in their previously important hobbies and past times.

What if these symptoms apply to me?

Remember, anyone of these symptoms in isolation does not necessarily mean there is a problem, but if most or all of them are presenting then you should seek help. Your GP will be trained in diagnosing people living with dementia, along with several other conditions.  If it is not dementia, this may be a real relief, but may also be an opportunity for treatment. If it is dementia, the sooner you start treating it, the better chance you have of slowing down the progression.

If you want to try a simple Memory Loss Test try this one, it will give you further insight, but please see your GP without delay if you have any concerns.

For more information or if you wish to discuss care for your loved one please email