In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms are often subtle and easily dismissed. A person with early stage dementia is usually physically healthy and functioning reasonably well.
At some point cognitive changes start to affect an individual’s day to day life prompting them or family members to seek help.
Dementia can be caused by a number of conditions. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
Whilst memory loss is one of the first signs of dementia, this can be well hidden. An individual experiencing symptoms of early dementia may also be fearful of a diagnosis and attempt to hide changes in memory.
As an individual struggles to cope with memory loss, it’s changes in personality and behaviour that often alert family members that something is not quite right.
In the early stages of dementia an individual may act out of character, be easily irritable or appear vague in conversation.
For family members it’s observing a change in old patterns or behaviours that’s most noticeable. After a diagnosis of dementia many family members say looking back, the signs of early dementia started a few years prior.
In the early stages of dementia common symptoms include:
- Memory loss that affects daily life
- Misplacing objects (putting inappropriate things in the fridge)
- Confusion to time and place (forgetting where you’re going and how to get home)
- Difficulty planning and solving everyday problems like following instructions, paying bills, doing a familiar task
- Problems with language. Forgetting or using the wrong words, appearing vague or getting lost in a conversation
- Changes in personality and behaviour (apathy, mood swings, erratic behaviour)
- Depression and withdrawal
Whilst the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s are similar to other types of dementias, symptoms can vary considerably between individuals.
There are also a range of symptoms typical of certain sub-types of dementia that can be difficult to diagnose.
Vascular dementia is caused by impaired blood flow to the brain can be associated with a variety of symptoms. If a person suffers a massive shock dementia symptoms will be sudden and obvious. In Subcortical vascular dementia symptoms can be slow to develop.
In the early stages people with vascular dementia can experience problems with language, incontinence and visual disturbance. A person with vascular dementia may appear to get better only to suffer a setback as symptoms reappear. Often early stage vascular dementia is mistaken for depression as a person can be apathetic, teary or lash out for no reason.
Lewy body dementia can present with symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A person with Lewy body dementia can have problems with movement, balance and rigidity. They may have a shuffling stooped gait as seen in Parkinson’s disease. Sleep disorders, hallucinations and visual disturbance are also common symptoms of early Lewy body dementia.
Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, people experiencing early Lewy body dementia can have symptoms that fluctuate widely. They can have more intense fluctuating periods of attention, alertness and cognition, sometimes in one day.