Dementia is not a normal part of ageing and is more than just forgetfulness. There are other lesser-known symptoms that may suggest the onset of dementia.
Poor or Decreased Judgement
We make decisions all the time. Although everyone makes a bad decision once in a while, most of us are capable of weighing different factors and coming up with appropriate actions.
The ability to make judgement diminishes in people with dementia. They become less able to gather and make use of relevant information to make an informed decision and understand or anticipate the consequences. This is one of the signs of dementia.
Examples of poor or decreased judgement include:
- Personal safety — crossing a busy road without looking out for traffic, getting into a stranger’s car, or going to sleep with the stove on
- Finances — giving away money to strangers or refusing to pay bills
- Social interaction — misjudging other’s intentions, behaving inappropriately or being more tactless
- Dressing and grooming — leaving the house in pyjamas or refusing to maintain personal hygiene
With decreased judgement, dementia patients may put themselves at risk.
Difficulty Doing Familiar Tasks
Most of us go about our routine day-to-day activities almost without thinking about them, for example, when we brush our teeth or make a cup of tea.
One of the symptoms of dementia is increasing difficulty in doing things that used to be easy and familiar. This could be due to various reasons, such as being more forgetful and trouble remembering or keeping track of sequences.
Examples of familiar tasks that become increasingly difficult to do include:
- Daily chores — washing vegetables after cooking them or putting clean laundry into the washer instead of the wardrobe
- Personal hygiene — showering without removing clothes
- Orientation and sense of direction — being lost in an unfamiliar environment and having difficulty working out how to find their way home or thinking harder about the direction to take
These can lead to safety or health issues as the dementing illness progresses. More often than not, persons with dementia will need some form of assistance or supervision with daily routine activities.
Problems with Communication and Understanding Information
Everyone has difficulty finding the right words at times, but if familiar words such as “toothbrush”, “comb” or “fork” escape us more often than it should, then it could be a sign of dementia.
The language function in the brain deteriorates as dementia progresses. Communication becomes difficult as the person with dementia struggles to express his/her thoughts or comprehend information:
- Forgetting words — especially common words used day-to-day
- Difficulty in communicating thoughts — talking in a disorganised way or stopping mid-way in a conversation
- Problems with written language — forgetting how to write certain words or finding it hard to organise writing
- Repetitive speech — repeating themselves or asking the same questions many times
As a result, some dementia patients can become more withdrawn as they have difficulty getting their thoughts across to people and understanding what is happening in the world around them.
Dementia is Not Normal Ageing
The brain, like the body, ages and slows down as one gets older. You may become less alert or flexible mentally, or take a longer time to process information or recall facts. These are perfectly normal. There’s no need to panic if you notice yourself or your loved ones showing symptoms of forgetfulness or disorientation once in a while. You could just be tired, stressed or distracted from juggling multiple tasks.
However, people with dementia suffer from deteriorating thinking skills with noticeable changes in their behaviour that become a concern for themselves and people around them.
If you sense that your loved ones are acting out of character more often than not, and exhibit the signs of dementia described, then you may want to seek medical help for them early. The doctors will be able to rule out other treatable confounding factors mimicking dementia symptoms (e.g. depression, vitamin deficiency) and provide a proper diagnosis. As with other diseases, early intervention always helps.