Dementia isn’t one illness alone: rather it is a collection of symptoms that are caused by a number of different conditions, for example Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, no two people with dementia will experience the same symptoms, in the same way, or in the same order. This can make it very difficult for loved ones who are concerned about their family member, and how they can help them.
Here we aim to alleviate some of the bewilderment by explaining what early onset dementia is, the early symptoms of dementia most people spot, and how dementia is diagnosed in the UK.
As explained, dementia is a collection of symptoms rather than one disease by itself. We sometimes hear of ‘early onset dementia’ too. This again is a broad term. In fact, you will often hear this referred to by different names including young-onset dementia. In reality, there is no real difference between the generic term ‘dementia’ and the equally generic ‘early onset’ variety. The difference is an artificial date line with early onset being categorised as starting before an individual’s 65th birthday.
The truth is that the symptoms of dementia will be similar whether it is classed as early onset dementia or not. However, typically the early onset dementia will cause early problems with mobility, movement and walking whereas this is usually a later symptom.
If we look at the broader understanding of dementia as a collective description, it is possible to see the common early symptoms that individuals usually experience. It is important to remember that each dementia patient is unique and a variety of factors will affect the order in which symptoms develop, or the scope to which they affect them. Physical fitness, general health and even personality will all affect how dementia plays out.
We typically think of a classic dementia patient struggling with memory loss. While this is true, it is one of a variety of early symptoms of dementia. Typically, for a diagnosis of dementia, an individual will need a minimum of two ‘impairments’ which significantly impact their lives.
Here we explain the most common impairments:
It’s important to remember that not all of these symptoms will occur, or be consistent from day to day. The decline is usually gradual, with ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days.
In the early stages of these symptoms, an individual will usually not be diagnosed with dementia. Instead, they are more likely to be deemed as suffering from ‘mild cognitive impairment’. The signs at this stage are a lot harder to spot and quantify. Not everyone with mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop dementia and the rate of decline varies greatly.
However, it is also important to remember that dementia is not a normal part of ageing. These symptoms should not be ignored or dismissed as simply ‘old age’. For more specific information regarding the different symptoms associated with different forms of dementia, NHS website has more information.