Dementia affects each person in a different way, depending upon the impact of the disease and the person’s personality before becoming ill. The signs and symptoms linked to dementia can be understood in three stages.
Early stage: the early stage of dementia is often overlooked, because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms include:
- losing track of the time
- becoming lost in familiar places.
Middle stage: as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and more restricting. These include:
- becoming forgetful of recent events and people’s names
- becoming lost at home
- having increasing difficulty with communication
- needing help with personal care
- experiencing behaviour changes, including wandering and repeated questioning.
Late stage: the late stage of dementia is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious. Symptoms include:
- becoming unaware of the time and place
- having difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
- having an increasing need for assisted self-care
- having difficulty walking
- experiencing behaviour changes that may escalate and include aggression.
Although it is not currently understood why people develop dementia, there are many factors which have been suggested to be linked to the development of the condition. Some are risk factors, whilst others appear to be protective.
Risk factors are characteristics or factors that appear to have some relationship to the development of a disease. If these risk factors are present, there is an increased chance, but not a certainty, that the disease will develop.
Risk factors can include family background or exposures to a substance or product. Going back to the example of smoking: a person who smokes has a greater risk of developing heart disease than someone who does not smoke. Some risk factors can be modified, for example lowering blood pressure reduces the risk of a stroke; other risk factors cannot be modified, for example age or family history.
Age and a strong family history of dementia are risk factors with a strong link to dementia. Excessive alcohol consumption, head injury, and risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and being overweight also seem to increase the risk of getting dementia.
It seems that people who keep their brains active may be at less risk of developing dementia. Reading, engaging in a hobby such as playing bridge or chess, or doing crosswords and word puzzles may help to reduce risk.