Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and rates are rising – but the signs and symptoms of the condition are often poorly misunderstood.
Classed as a neurological disorder, it most notably causes memory loss, which usually starts slowly and gradually worsens over time.
However, there are other signs of Alzheimer’s to look out for that might not be so obvious. Although there is currently no ‘cure’ for the condition. spotting these early could make a difference to the rate of cognitive decline.
“It’s really important people understand these symptoms, so they’re able to act early and ensure people living with dementia get the support they need, to help them live safely and happily,” says Fran Vandelli, a dementia lead for Bupa Care Homes.
On World Alzheimer’s Day we share a few key signs to be aware of…
1. A change in sense of taste and sometimes smell
Dementia can change our food and drink preferences. “This is because it impacts the way our brain interacts with our taste buds, meaning people don’t experience food or flavours in the same ways,” says Vandelli.
As a result, Vandelli says, people might suddenly change their diets and develop completely new preferences, especially for sweeter or stronger tastes.
2. Falling behind with household tasks
As well as impacting our memory, dementia also causes our reasoning skills to decline. As such, it can leave people struggling to complete household tasks like managing finances or paying bills.
“Another thing to look out for is whether someone has more leftover, or out of date, food in their fridge and cupboards,” notes Vandelli. “This can be a sign, as dementia can lead to people forgetting to eat. With time, this may also exhibit itself through weight loss.”
3. Unexpected mood swings or behaviour
Vandelli says that when our rational responses break down because of dementia, so can our ability to control our emotions. “In these scenarios, emotions can rise to the surface and be expressed in a more immediate and uninhibited way.
“For some people, it may present as a short temper, as they get frustrated about not being able to remember things.
“Other times, people might become more withdrawn or anxious, as they’re less able to engage with the conversations going on around them.”
This can be difficult to deal with, especially for friends and loved ones, but Vandelli says that it’s important not to take things personally, or to let their behaviour push you away.
“Remember that it’s not a change in someone’s personality – they’re still the same person you know and love,” she stresses. “It’s just how they’re responding to the anxiety and frustration of dementia, as they try to navigate their relationships.”
4. Changes in spatial awareness
Alzheimer’s can also impact people’s perception of space and distance. “This one is often harder to spot, but can sometimes be seen if people are struggling to carry out tasks like parking the car,” says Vandelli.
5. Trouble planning or following instructions
Alzheimer’s can make it harder for people to problem-solve or follow a sequence of tasks.
“For example, someone who might’ve been a dab-hand in the kitchen may begin to struggle in remembering how to prepare a meal,” says Vandelli. “Similarly, people might find it more difficult to make or follow a shopping list – meaning everyday tasks can take longer.”
Confabulation is when people make up stories to fill in gaps in their memory. For instance, someone may come up an unusual tale to explain why they’ve left their house keys in the fridge.
“While this may be frustrating for the people around them, it’s important to remember that it’s not a conscious decision,” says Vandelli. “They’re not telling lies, they’re simply trying to find an explanation or answer, when they’re unable to remember themselves.”