Dementia: An early warning sign of Alzheimer’s that is not memory loss

Alzheimer's: Dr Chris discusses the early signs of condition

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The Alzheimer’s Society – a charity dedicated to sharing information and raising money for important research – have highlighted the symptoms of dementia. Often, people who are beginning to form plaques and tangles in their brain do not have symptoms of the brain disease for a number of years. Signs of dementia do appear, however, when the quantity of plaques and tangles is disturbing how the neurotransmitters communicate with one another in the brain.

As dementia begins to affect day-to-day life, one of the earliest warning signs could be tripping up the stairs.

People’s visuospatial skills deteriorate, meaning they are unable to judge distances correctly.

To illustrate, the person affected may take a misstep walking up or down the stairs because they are unable to judge how near the next step is.

Another early sign of dementia may include difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something.

This could be as simple as pointing towards an object without asking for the kettle to be put on, for example.

Orientation issues can cause the person affected to lose track of the day or the date.

It is also commonplace for a person with dementia to become confused as to where they are.

As well as memory loss, dementia can lead to trouble with concentrating, planning or organising.

“A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood,” added the charity.

“For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad.”

The progression of the brain disease is unique for each case, meaning some people may lose their cognitive function more quickly than others.

What causes dementia?

When speaking specifically about Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, the condition develops as abnormal proteins surround the brain cells.

These proteins – known as plaques and tangles – interrupt the connections between brain cells, causing them to die.

As brain cells are lost, problems with day-to-day memory might start to emerge.

At present, more than 520,000 people in the UK have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease – and this figure is set to rise.

One of the biggest risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease is being over the age of 65.

As people are living longer nowadays, it is understandable why a rise in the number of cases are predicted.

The chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease are increased if:

  • You are a woman
  • You lead a sedentary lifestyle, especially after mid-life
  • You smoke
  • You have an unhealthy diet
  • You drink more than the weekly recommended alcohol limit.

Health conditions can also increase a person’s susceptibility of developing the disease. This includes:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Heart problems
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity.

If you would like to make a donation to help fund research on dementia treatments, please visit the Alzheimer’s Society.

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