How to spot six tell-tale signs of the possible onset of dementia
The early symptoms of the condition can creep up slowly on families - and the festive season can bring them to the fore
Christmas is a time when we get to take a rare break from work and spend some much-needed quality time with our families, squabbling over board games and pigging out on festive foods.
But with many people getting together for the first time in months, it can also be a common time for noticing stark changes in a loved one.
According to Dementia UK, there's a notable increase in people getting in touch for information on the disease over the Christmas period as relatives spend more time in each other's company.
While memory loss is one of the most widely recognised symptoms of dementia, the condition can actually cause a range of symptoms in the early stages, with various types of dementia affecting people differently.
Initially, the signs are more subtle and harder to spot, but it's a good idea to know some of the early indicators to look out for, particularly at this time of year. Although these things don't automatically mean somebody has dementia, it's a good idea to seek advice and speak with your GP sooner rather than later if you're at all concerned.
Here, John Ramsay, CEO of Shift 8 (the company bringing Tovertafel - a cutting-edge dementia care product - to the UK), outlines six common signs of dementia to keep in mind this festive season...
1. Memory loss
We've all had those days where we've forgotten our keys or left the lights on by mistake at home, but how do you know when forgetfulness has become something more serious? "This is one of the hardest symptoms to define, as people's ability to remember events and conversations naturally vary," explains John.
"However, while anyone can be forgetful, it can become apparent when the loss of memory starts suddenly, or perhaps has grown worse over a year or so. While memory loss affects people differently, you may notice that your relative can recall a surprising range of facts or experiences from their earlier years, but will be forgetful about recent events."
2. Abnormal movements or restlessness
John, whose own father suffered from dementia, says having restless legs is a symptom that is often overlooked.
"My dad had always enjoyed walking, but he started consistently walking with purpose up and down our local street all day long, from a very early stage," he recalls. "It can often be an exhausting task to try and keep a loved one with these symptoms safe."
Usually, Christmas is a time for over-buying food, drink and gifts to make sure you don't get caught short when you have guests over, but hoarding can be a big indicator that something isn't quite right.
"Often, a person displaying symptoms of dementia will forget they have already bought something, so they will go out and get the exact same thing," says John. "My dad was constantly making copies of the house keys and buying exactly the same items from the shops more than three times a day."
4. Mood swings
One of the most challenging symptoms to come to terms with is the mood swings that can develop with early-onset dementia. "Understandably, frustrations can come from feeling an emotion, but being unsure from where it originated," explains John.
"As hard as it might be, it is important to try and avoid arguing and remind yourself that their anger stems from a frustration they cannot control."
5. Having difficulty with new environments
Routine is key for people living with dementia and any sudden changes in routine can leave them feeling agitated and uncomfortable.
"Christmas can be a challenging time of year for those living with dementia, as they are often in an unfamiliar home, surrounded by people who aren't part of their daily routine," says John. "This can be overwhelming."
6. Loss of subtleties of language
Another early sign of dementia is a change in the way the person communicates. "Linked to a change in memory, those who have dementia can have issues with talking, often getting lost in conversations or struggling to recall the right words when discussing an idea."
For anyone who is unsure about dementia symptoms, or simply needs support during this Christmas season, you can call the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 which is operated by specialist dementia nurses. For more information, visit dementiauk.org