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Is it dementia or simply old age? Family time puts changes under the spotlight


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The Alzheimer’s Society will see a 60 per cent spike in calls to its helpline during the festive period, as families spend longer periods of time together over Christmas and are more likely to notice changes in their loved one’s behaviour.

A common concern is not knowing whether these changes can be attributed to absent-mindedness in old age, or whether they are a more worrying indicator of dementia.

Following a survey which highlighted common misconceptions, the charity has released the following guidance to help people identify the differences:

Everyday tasks

Forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects – YES this is an indicator of dementia, as recognised by 72 per cent of survey respondents.

Putting objects in the wrong place – e.g. a mug of tea in the cupboard – NO this is not necessarily an indication of dementia. Around 60% got this wrong.

A sense of confusion about day-to-day tasks, for example, being unsure how the order in which a cup of tea is made – YES this should be a cause for concern.

Forgetfulness

Forgetting why you have walked into a room – NO this is not a sign of dementia. However, the room itself feeling unfamiliar IS a symptom, rather than why they are there.

Repetitive behaviour

Repetitive, compulsive or ritualised behaviour involving phrases, gestures and questions – YES this could be caused by dementia. Only 39 per cent of people surveyed were aware of this.

Mispronouncing words or stuttering – YES this could also indicate a person has dementia.

Losing interest in hobbies

While people can decide to slow down – particularly in later life – significant changes to a person’s attitude or demeanour towards something they once enjoyed IS linked to dementia.

Talking about your worries

The Alzheimer’s Society survey also showed that many people feel an understandable reluctance to confront potential symptoms, with only a third of people saying they would feel confident about starting a conversation about dementia with someone they were concerned about. Our advice here is not to try and go it alone. You can seek support from your loved one’s GP, the local Alzheimer’s Society or from care experts such as the local Right at Home office.

You can ask for advice on how to have that difficult conversation, or even ask someone else to raise it instead – sometimes bringing someone else into the picture will help overcome fears about protecting special relationships.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know dementia is the most feared illness for many, and there’s no question that it can have a devastating impact on people, their family and friends.

“It’s important we tackle confusion around what are and aren’t signs of dementia, and help give people confidence in approaching loved ones about their concerns so people don’t delay getting help.

“Dementia can strip you of connections to the people you love, but we have many services that can help stop that and support you.”

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