There is no one test for dementia, partly because it isn’t a single disease. Dementia is a diagnostic term used by doctors to describe a group of conditions where there is a recognisable deterioration in mental function.
Reduced brain function can be down to many things, including tiredness, depression, other illness, alcohol and even medications. But it can be also an early warning sign of dementia, so it’s important not to ignore or dismiss it. Knowing the cause of the problem means you can get the right help and treatment.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimers disease, which occurs with age (usually over 65 years) and is due to a gradual but progressive loss of brain cells, which means it gets worse over time. The exact cause of Alzheimers is still unknown but it affects the nerves, brain cells and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Other types include vascular dementia, which is caused by blockage of blood supply to important parts of the brain, for example, after a stroke.
Less commonly Dementia with Lewys bodies (DLB), Picks disease and other rarer brain diseases can cause dementia.
Signs and symptoms
All forms of dementia cause some signs and symptoms that you can look out for.
These may include:
- Memory loss
Losing things, forgetting the names of objects and people, even close relatives or friends, or struggling to know what day, week, month or year it is.
- Difficulty with problem solving
Tasks which would normally be straight forward to that person become hard or impossible.
- Reduced understanding
Finding it hard to follow a conversation or having difficulty with reading or judging distances or spatial awareness.
- Problems with communication
Inability to find the right words.
- Big changes in personality, behaviour and mood
It is often a close relative or friend who notices this.
Co-ordination or problems with movement.
As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty remembering things they’ve recently done or should be doing. Problems with language and speech may start to develop, as well as symptoms such as:
- Obsessive or repetitive behaviour
- Mood swings
- Disturbed sleep
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Believing things that are untrue (delusions)
- speech problems and poor coordination