Thursday, 23rd November 2017
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This is the fourth article in our "Focus on Dementia" series and this week we look at some of the signs and symptoms of dementia. Here's what you need to know.

"Focus on Dementia" is an initiative of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign.

What is dementia?

Dementia is caused by a number of diseases that damage the nerve cells in the brain. Common symptoms may include difficulties with thinking and language, problem-solving and the carrying out of everyday tasks, as well as issues with memory loss and changes in mood and behaviour.

What is the difference between forgetfulness and dementia?

For sure, our bodies and brains slow down as we age. We are less physically and mentally flexible and we take more time to process information. Memory changes occur as well, and many people find it harder to remember people’s names, places and other things, as they age. These are usually just signs of mild forgetfulness, however, rather than any underlying disease.

Many people presume that dementia is a normal part of getting older. However, this is not the case, and it is important to remember that not all older people get dementia - nine out of 10 older people do not have dementia.

Signs and symptoms of dementia

With dementia, memory loss is more significant than forgetting things from time to time. It isn’t just occasional and it tends to gradually get worse. Some people who are developing dementia may not complain of memory problems and may instead find that they are having difficulty with everyday tasks or with language and finding the right words. Some find that their personality or mood changes while others lose interest in getting involved in new things.

Here are some general early signs and symptoms to look out for:

- memory loss, particularly of recent events or people’s names

- problems with language, or difficulty finding the right word

- changes in mood and behaviour

- becoming confused in familiar surroundings or situations

- finding it hard to start or follow conversations, TV programmes or reading

- problems managing money and keeping track of monthly bills

- difficulty solving problems or doing puzzles

- loss of interest in hobbies and pastimes

- repeating a question or story several times without realising

Most people will experience a number of these signs, which generally emerge gradually, and they will most likely have increasing difficulty over time.

We know that many people who are worried that they are, or a loved one is, displaying signs of dementia tend to delay seeking help for as long as possible. This is unfortunate because an early diagnosis gives people the best chance to prepare and plan for the future, and to receive treatment. With support from healthcare professionals, family and friends, many people are able to lead active, fulfilling lives with dementia.

When to go to the doctor

If you are worried about your memory or think you may have dementia, it's a good idea to see your GP. The signs and symptoms listed above can also be caused by depression, stress, drug side-effects, or other health issues like infections and thyroid problems. It can be just as important to rule out these other problems or find ways to treat them.

What to expect

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and other aspects of your health, and will give you a physical examination. The doctor will organise some blood tests and ask about any medication you are taking, as these can sometimes cause symptoms similar to dementia. You will also be asked some questions or given some mental exercises to measure any problems with your memory or your ability to think clearly. After your assessment, your GP will be in a position to reassure you or to give you a diagnosis, or may decide to refer you for further tests to a specialist who is an expert in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, including dementia.

This feature is the fourth in a series of "Dementia: Understand Together" articles. Next week we look at first steps following a dementia diagnosis. For more information,

Freephone 1800 341 341 or visit http://www.understandtogether.ie

"Focus on Dementia" is an initiative of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign.

Dementia: Understand Together is a public support, awareness and information campaign. It aims to inspire people from all sections of society to stand together with the 500,000 Irish people whose families have been affected by dementia.

The campaign is led by the HSE, working with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio, and supported by Waterford Today.

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