Every year, the month of September is observed as World Alzheimer’s Month and 21 September as World Alzheimer’s Day. In 2020, the theme for World Alzheimer’s day is “Let’s talk about dementia”, and this is important because dementia poses one of the biggest health challenges to the world right now.
Dementia is a neurodegenerative syndrome which is chronic or progressive in nature and causes cognitive impairments in thought, behaviour, speech, memory and the ability to perform ordinary everyday functions. It’s associated with a number of brain illnesses apart from Alzheimer’s disease, like vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Korsakoff’s syndrome and alcohol-related dementia.
Why take dementia seriously?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 million people around the world suffer from dementia, and these numbers are estimated to triple by 2050. Dementia is usually associated with ageing and shows up in people older than 65 years but young-onset (or early-onset) dementia can affect people who are often much younger than 65 years.
No matter who gets it, dementia can have a distressing and debilitating effect on people’s lives. This disease affects not just the patient but also has a deep impact on their families and caregivers. The WHO says that there is a lack of awareness and understanding regarding dementia in most countries, which leads to immense barriers in early diagnosis and proper care. Stigma also plays a huge role in this case.
Early warning signs of dementia
Better awareness of early warning signs and symptoms of dementia are more likely to help people recognise the onset of this disease in time and get appropriate treatment. Remember, there is no cure for dementia but with proper diagnosis and care the disease can be better managed. The following are the early symptoms of dementia you should look out for:
1. Memory loss: This is the most common symptom of dementia and is associated with Alzheimer’s disease too. Differentiating between age-related memory loss (which is a natural process) with dementia-related memory loss isn’t easy, which is why it’s important to consult a doctor if it is a frequent or recurring symptom.
2. Confusion: Planning, organising and solving problems may be difficult for people with early-onset dementia. Lapses in judgement, thinking and memory can often lead to confusion and distress in someone with dementia.
3. Difficulty with normal tasks: This change might be subtle at first but if a person is used to performing certain tasks, no matter how complex, and is suddenly finding it difficult to complete the same tasks, it may be a sign of dementia.
4. Mood changes: While mood shifts are more often linked to mental health issues like depression, it may also be a symptom of early dementia. Depression or major depressive disorder is also often linked to early-onset dementia.
5. Apathy: Listlessness, lethargy or a lack of interest in hobbies or activities that previously brought pleasure is another sign of dementia. Losing interest like this may also make a person with dementia appear emotionally flat.
6. Difficulty in visual or spatial understanding: Difficulties in understanding visual information, judging distances and losing spatial orientation may be a sign of dementia onset. With the progression of dementia, understanding directions or following step-by-step instructions may become more and more difficult.
For more information, read our article on Dementia.
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