Recognising Dementia in Elderly People


How to tell if you loved one may be affected by dementia

Dementia. It is a term that is commonly thrown around, but it can be hard to understand what the condition is in reality, and it can be very complicated to officially diagnose. Dementia is the name given to a group of symptoms that affect the brain’s cognitive function.

Dementia can affect an individuals’ thinking, behaviour and the ability to complete everyday tasks. While dementia is commonly associated with the elderly, it can affect people of all age groups and backgrounds. Dementia has no prevention or cure at the moment; however, it can be managed using a variety of treatments.

What are the causes of dementia?

What are the causes of dementia?

Dementia comes in many different forms and can be the result of multiple disorders and conditions. The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Lewy Bodies dementia, Huntington’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but there are many uncommon ones as well.

Due to the complexity of the brain, it can be hard to identify the root cause of the symptoms. Medical experts are continuing to research the effects of dementia on the brain and what causes the related symptoms to form a more defined diagnosis for individuals.

As time goes on, sufferers of dementia may need extra help at home from an NDIS approved aged care organisation, such as ConnectAbility, based in Newcastle, NSW and the Central Coast.

Recognising Dementia in Elderly People | Dementia

Symptoms of dementia

The symptoms of dementia can vary between individuals. Dementia is more common among the elderly, particularly in those aged over 65 years. The most pressing symptom is a problem with memory and the ability to remember recent events and actions, but it is generally accompanied by other relatable symptoms, such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Linguistic confusion
  • Changes in mood and temperament
  • Impaired abstract thinking

Memory loss

The normal individual will occasionally forget some small aspects of their life, for example losing house or car keys, or someone’s phone number. This is completely normal. As people age, their bodies do too, and the brain is no different. But where do we draw the line from normal memory loss related to age and symptoms of dementia?

When someone rapidly begins to forget recent events, names, and actions in a short period of time ( their memory is declining), we have to consider this an early flag for dementia. It goes beyond the normal aspects where this memory loss affects their day to day lives and their ability to complete household tasks. It is persistent and progressively gets worse as time goes on to the point where the individual can no longer live a normal life and needs support and assistance to live. ConnectAbility offers such support and can help immensely with day to day living for dementia sufferers.

Linguistic confusion

Learning to speak and talk is one of the earliest things we learn to do as humans. As we age, our vocabulary expands, and we have the ability to speak in more advanced conversations and understand more concepts.

An individual who has early signs of dementia may struggle with language and remembering specific words, stumble to find the correct word to use or may use words consistently in incorrect contexts.

This is because their brain is getting mixed messages and is having trouble interpreting information; the brain’s output is impaired. It can be very hard to understand an individual in this context and, as time progresses, it becomes very difficult to have a flowing, comprehensible conversation.

Changes in mood and temperament

It is common within the early stages of dementia for an individual to experience changes in their mood and personality. These changes can be sudden and persistent mood swings, for no apparent reason. Confusion, sadness, and feelings of being withdrawn are also common.

It is important, though, not to confuse sudden changes in mood and personality with other potential disorders such as depression, anxiety, physical infections, and brain tumors. If you notice these symptoms in someone that you love, it is important that they seek medical care to get to the root of the problem to ensure that if the condition is not dementia, that whatever is causing the changes is treated.

Impaired abstract thinking

Not everyone is gifted with a mathematical and critical thinking mind, however most individuals have the ability to grasp basic financial understanding and solve numerical concepts.

The loss of abstract thinking is a common early symptom of dementia in affected individuals. This may include losing the ability to manage financial tasks, including simple budgeting, additions, and counting money, which the individual may have been able to do previously in their life. Individuals may also have a hard time identifying numbers and knowing how various numbers relate to each other.

Recognising Dementia in Elderly People | Dementia

Someone I love is showing symptoms of dementia. What do I do?

The biggest thing to remember is that symptoms of dementia can sometimes overlap with other conditions and disorders. Don’t assume that your loved one has dementia, but early diagnosis is critical.

Consult a medical professional

The first step is that your loved one needs to seek the support of a medical professional. They will complete a full medical and psychological assessment to rule out other treatable causes before arriving at a dementia diagnosis. The assessment might include:

  • Detailed medical history report containing all the information relational to the symptoms being experienced, past medical conditions and operations and risk factors.
  • In depth neurological assessments – including physical tests and brain scan to determine the movement and capacity of the brain. These tests assist medical professionals to rule out other conditions before arriving at a dementia diagnosis.
  • Lab screening tests – including blood and urine to check for other existing conditions that may be triggering the symptoms.
  • Mental and psychiatric assessments – to identify disorders that may mimic dementia but are treatable.
Recognising Dementia in Elderly People | Dementia

What to do after a dementia diagnosis

Having a medical professional confirm a dementia diagnosis can be a confronting and scary step in an individual’s life, particularly among the elderly. It can make elderly individuals feel like they are losing their ability to be independent and live a normal life, so it is quite common for individuals to be hesitant about seeing a medical professional. However, having an early diagnosis means sufferers and their families can manage the symptoms and take steps to reduce their impact on your day-to-day life.

Some medications and treatments are available to assist individuals with maintaining daily functions and stabilise potential cognitive decline. Cognitive stimulation early has also shown promising results in slowing the effects of dementia on the brain. This could include engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as brain teasers, mathematical problems, word games and fine motor skilled activities.

Recognising Dementia in Elderly People | Dementia

The future of dementia research

Scientists and medical researchers are consistently looking at the way that the brain functions and how they can improve processes to diagnose dementia. Efforts into better tools and medical equipment for earlier and accurate diagnosis are showing promising results, essentially improving the life and longevity of individuals living with dementia.

Seek support for your elderly loved one with ConnectAbility

Does your loved one need support while living with dementia? ConnectAbility Australia can help. ConnectAbility offers in-home care and support for elderly individuals, such as domestic assistance, shopping assistance, and transport.

With over 25 years’ experience working within the community, ConnectAbility is the right choice to support you or your loved ones. Make an enquiry online by clicking here or contact them today in Newcastle on 02 4962 1000 or on the Central Coast at 02 4349 3700.

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