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Dementia - What are the symptoms of dementia?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Alzheimer's disease and other dementias can cause many different symptoms. But the first sign is usually mild forgetfulness. Symptoms usually come on gradually and get worse over several years. But if you've had a stroke, they can start suddenly.

People in the early stages of Alzheimer's or other types of dementia can forget what day it is or what they did yesterday. They can have trouble remembering the names of friends or everyday objects. They can also get easily confused, so that they can't follow what you're saying.

These symptoms can be annoying for friends and family. You may even think your relative or loved one is being deliberately difficult. Bear in mind that someone with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia can do nothing about their state of mind, and may well be anxious about it themselves.

The problems with memory get worse over time. And they start to affect day-to-day life. For example, someone with Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia may not be able to get dressed. They simply forget what they're supposed to do and how to do it. They can also find it hard to understand what people are saying to them. Some people with the disease have difficulty reading or writing.

Doctors divide the symptoms of dementia into three groups. There are different treatments for different groups of symptoms, so it's useful to know what these are.

  • Problems with memory, thinking, and language, such as forgetting words for things or people, or not understanding what's being said. Memory problems can lead to confusion. For example, someone with dementia might get lost in a familiar place. Or they might forget they've done something, or keep asking the same questions again and again.

  • Problems with doing day-to-day things, such as getting dressed, eating, and going to the toilet. People with dementia can find it difficult to follow instructions and they can have problems using money.

  • Different behaviour. People with dementia can become agitated, irritable, and restless. They may start pacing the room or wandering. They may shout at their family or lash out. They might also feel anxious or depressed. Or they may laugh out loud or start crying at the wrong times. Some people get delusions (imagining that something is happening when it isn't). For example, they think somebody is trying to steal their things. Some get hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there).[20]

When someone first gets Alzheimer's disease or another type of dementia, they may realise that their memory isn't as good as it was. They might get annoyed with themselves for not remembering things. They may have moments when everything seems clear and other times when they're confused.[20]

But most people with dementia don't notice they're having problems. A relative or friend may need to tell them that they keep forgetting things and suggest they see a doctor.[14]

If you think someone close to you could have dementia, you should make sure they see a doctor. Many of the treatments for Alzheimer's and other dementias work best when the disease is in the early stage. So, it's important not to delay.

Although the above symptoms can happen with any type of dementia, different diseases have their own features.

Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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