What are the symptoms?

Dementia usually develops slowly, with mild early symptoms, so diagnosing dementia in its early stages can be difficult. It is normally diagnosed initially by the most common symptoms, such as memory loss. The diagnosis can be confirmed with a careful physical and mental examination and simple memory and mental ability tests that check things such as the ability to read, write or calculate.

Every person with dementia is different. How their illness affects them depends on which areas of the brain are most damaged. One of the most common symptoms of dementia is memory loss. It is important to remember that everyone forgets things sometimes. Most people`s memory gets worse as they get older. But when someone has dementia, they may forget the names of family members, not just strangers. They burn pans because they have forgotten they have turned them on or forget to eat lunch. They may repeat the same question again and again and not know that they are doing it. People with dementia may lose their sense of time, losing track of which day it is or of the time of day. They may lose track of where they are, and get lost even in a familiar place. They may fail to recognise people they know well.

People with dementia may often be confused. Their ability to think, to reason and to calculate can be affected. They may make odd decisions and find it hard to solve problems. Handling money may become difficult as they find it harder to work out their change or lose their sense of the value of money. Dementia can also cause personality change. Someone who was active and energetic may become listless; someone pleasant and well mannered may become rude and aggressive. These changes can be particularly distressing to relatives and friends as they begin to lose the person they knew. Gradually, over a period of years, most functions of the brain will be affected. Eventually, people with dementia will probably need help with even simple daily activities, such as dressing, eating or going to the toilet.