The Signs You Might Be Getting Dementia

By Ella Schweiger 6 months ago

Our memories are the threads that weave together the fabric of our existence. However, as we age, the specter of dementia looms as a potential disruptor, casting shadows on the once-familiar landscapes of our minds. It's a topic that touches many lives, whether personally or through the experiences of loved ones. In this exploration, we delve into the subtle nuances that may signal the onset of dementia, understanding that early recognition is key to fostering a supportive and informed approach to this challenging journey.

Decreased short-term memory 

Individuals grappling with the early stages of dementia may find themselves frequently misplacing common items or struggling to remember names of familiar faces. This lapse in short-term memory can manifest in everyday tasks, causing a sense of frustration and confusion.
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Struggling with memory can be an early sign of dementia. Often, this is linked to short-term memory and changes can be subtle. Somebody suffering with dementia might manage to recall events that happened years ago, but they will struggle to tell you what they had for lunch.

Difficulty finding the right words

Difficulty in communication extends beyond mere word-finding struggles; it encompasses a broader struggle to convey thoughts in a logical sequence. Loved ones may observe instances where those with dementia become increasingly frustrated as the linguistic roadblocks hinder their once-effortless expression.
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A potential early sign of dementia can be finding it difficult to communicate thoughts. Somebody with dementia may struggle to explain something or find the right words to express what they're thinking. Sometimes, they will pause in the middle of a sentence, not knowing how to carry on.

Changes in mood

Changes in mood often serve as silent messengers, whispering tales of underlying shifts in cognitive health. While it can be challenging to discern these fluctuations within oneself, the observant eye may catch glimpses of emotional transformations in others.
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Changes in mood can be a possible sign with some dementia sufferers. It can be hard to spot this sign within yourself, but you could notice this switch in another person. An example of this in the early stages of dementia could be depression or low mood.

Apathy

Subtle shifts in emotion, social engagement, and daily activities can serve as crucial markers in identifying the onset of dementia, urging us to approach the topic with sensitivity and awareness. Challenges in completing familiar tasks or hobbies may emerge, manifesting as forgetfulness or difficulty following once-familiar routines.
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A potential early sign could be no longer feeling or expressing emotions the same as before. This may cause a person to feel indifferent in situations that they or others would usually react to. Because of this, they may no longer have interest in fun.

Difficulty completing tasks

Individuals experiencing the early stages of dementia may find it challenging to manage finances or adhere to a familiar routine. Simple activities that once required minimal thought, like organizing daily schedules or navigating familiar routes, may become increasingly daunting.
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Small shifts in the ability to complete everyday tasks is another possible early warning sign of dementia. A lot of the time, you will first notice this change with harder tasks. For example, playing a game with a lot of rules or following a recipe.

Confusion

A sign in the early stages of dementia can sometimes be confusion. People can become confused when they're trying to remember faces. Confusion can happen for different reasons and in different situations. Another example may be forgetting where they've put their keys, or what comes next in their routine.
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Losing track of dates, seasons, or even the current location can manifest as a disorienting symptom. Furthermore, language difficulties may emerge, making it challenging for individuals to express themselves coherently or comprehend the words of others.

Difficulty following storylines

The subtle erosion of language becomes a poignant indicator of the early stages of dementia. Individuals grappling with this condition may experience difficulty in grasping the meaning of words
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Sometimes, people with early dementia can forget the meaning of some words whilst listening to a story. Because of this, they can find it difficult to follow storylines whilst they are watching TV, or even whilst they are participating in conversations.

Decline in sense of direction

Individuals experiencing the onset of dementia may struggle with depth perception, leading to difficulties in judging distances and navigating through once-familiar spaces. Simple tasks such as ascending or descending stairs may become precarious, as the individual grapples with an altered sense of space.
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When a person has the onset of dementia, it can possibly worsen their sense of direction and spatial orientation. This may mean they struggle to recognise landmarks that used to be familiar to them, or forget the route to places which they have known all their lives.

Repetition

There are different kinds of repetition to look out for when it comes to dementia. This can be due to memory loss. Some people with early dementia may keep asking the same questions or re-tell the same story. Whilst others can shower when they have already had one, or repeat other daily tasks.
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Beyond verbal repetition, daily routines may also exhibit a curious recurrence; some may unintentionally shower multiple times or repeat other tasks, underscoring the pervasive impact of memory-related difficulties on even the most mundane aspects of life.

Struggling to adapt to change

Sometimes, the fear accompanying the early stages of dementia extends beyond memory lapses. It manifests as a profound sense of disorientation, causing individuals to grapple with recognizing even those they've known intimately for years
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Sometimes, when a person is in the early stages of dementia, they will experience more fear. All of a sudden, they struggle to remember people they've always known and live in confusion. Because of this, changes can be extremely difficult as it can throw them off even more.

Poor judgment

This impairment in decision-making becomes increasingly evident as individuals grapple with dementia. Another illustrative scenario involves challenges in financial judgment, where routine tasks such as managing bills or making purchases become progressively daunting.
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Another sign to look out for with dementia can be the lack of ability to make the right decisions. An example of this is somebody struggling to recognise harmful situations, like someone dressing themselves in shorts and a vest when it's snowing outside.

Problems with communication 

Communication, often taken for granted, can serve as an early indicator of cognitive changes associated with dementia. Look out for instances where individuals repetitively ask the same questions or tell the same stories, perhaps unaware that they've shared them before.
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Take notice a sudden struggle to participate in conversations like before, or if somebody is not able to follow the conversation. Sometimes, people with dementia will stop suddenly in the middle of a sentence, not able to find the words or the name of something.

Getting lost

The impact of dementia on spatial and visual abilities extends beyond occasional stumbles or misjudgments. Individuals grappling with dementia may find themselves disoriented in familiar surroundings, facing challenges in navigating once-familiar paths.
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Some people suffering with dementia can struggle with their spatial and visual abilities. This can therefore create issues such as getting lost whilst walking or driving. Another example could be misjudging the space and falling into or over objects.

Changes to personality

These shifts in emotional temperament can manifest as uncharacteristic mood swings or heightened sensitivity, often leaving both the individual and those around them grappling with the abrupt transformations. Loved ones may observe a once sociable person becoming increasingly withdrawn, or conversely, witness an introverted individual exhibiting unusually extroverted behavior.
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It can potentially be a sign of dementia when a person has notable changes to their personality. For example, somebody may usually be very laid back and thick skinned, then suddenly become easily upset or angered. Others may begin feeling anxious, depressed, fearful or suspicious.

Struggling with planning

This struggle with planning extends beyond the confines of the kitchen or financial responsibilities. Dementia sufferers may find it challenging to organize daily activities, such as managing a schedule or coordinating outings.
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It can be common with dementia sufferers to struggle with creating and following plans, or working with numbers. Because of this, they may have difficulty cooking a meal they once knew the recipe for, or keeping on top of monthly bills. They can also find it hard to concentrate when others are trying to involve them in a plan.

Lack of interest

Diving deeper into the intricacies of social behavior, a persistent withdrawal from once-enjoyed activities can serve as a poignant indicator. Individuals experiencing the early stages of dementia may exhibit a notable decline in their enthusiasm for hobbies, gatherings, or pastimes that once brought them joy.
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It is normal to have times when somebody does not feel as social as they usually would. However, if there is an abrupt and unexplained lack of interest in a person's family, friends and other activities, this could possibly be a warning sign of dementia.

Losing belongings

The misplacement of belongings often becomes a poignant chapter. The unsettling reality is that individuals grappling with dementia may unknowingly tuck away cherished possessions in peculiar and unexpected corners, leading to a disconcerting cycle of lost items.
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Some people with dementia will put their belongings in strange and random places. They can then find it difficult recalling where they have put the items and can struggle to retrace their steps to locate them. Because of this, you may notice more lost belongings.

Confusion about time 

A distinct hallmark of dementia emerges when individuals grapple with a disconcerting confusion of time. Simple tasks, such as remembering appointments or recalling recent events, become increasingly elusive.
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Another potentially alarming sign to look out for is disorientation about time, such as forgetting what day of the week it is. In more extreme cases, they may confuse the past with the present. An example of this may be asking for their sister, when this person passed away years ago.

Confusion about place 

Individuals grappling with the early stages of dementia may find themselves disoriented in both familiar and unfamiliar surroundings. The confusion about place extends beyond forgetting the way home; it might involve a perplexing disconnect from the geography of one's own life.
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Another change to look out for is somebody forgetting where they are or how they got there, as this could be a potential warning sign for dementia. In some cases, they may no longer recognize once familiar places, even if they are significant or have known them all their lives.

Neglecting hygiene

Keep an eye out for changes in wardrobe choices, as individuals with dementia may exhibit shifts in their clothing preferences or may repetitively wear the same outfit. Neglecting dental care can also be a telling sign, as forgetfulness or difficulty adhering to oral hygiene routines may manifest.
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Pay attention to any out of character decline in a person's personal hygiene. Some people suffering with dementia will have a clear, consistent change to their grooming and cleanliness. This can be due to them forgetting to wash, or struggling to follow their usual daily wash routine.

Difficulty handling money 

Routine tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or comprehending bank statements, might become increasingly challenging. Loved ones may observe a decline in the person's ability to make sound financial decisions, leading to potential financial strain and repercussions.
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In some cases, you may notice a person gradually appearing to have poor judgment or questionable choices when it comes to handling their finances. An example of this could be splashing out on luxuries they can't afford, or missing payments for their monthly bills.

Visual troubles

The subtlety of these visual issues underscores the importance of keen observation and understanding as we navigate the delicate landscape of dementia detection. Take the example, driving, once an act of independence, may become increasingly challenging due to impaired visual perception, jeopardizing both the individual's safety and that of others on the road.
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Dementia can cause visual problems in some people. This might mean somebody has difficulty differentiating between colors, or they could have an unusual lack of balance. Others may have problems reading, or even have visual issues when they are driving.

Struggling with words when speaking or writing

Difficulty finding the right words during conversation or writing becomes increasingly apparent, leaving both the individual and those around them grappling with the frustration of unspoken thoughts.
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As mentioned earlier, people living with Dementia can have trouble following or joining a conversation. A cause of this is struggling to understand vocabulary others use. They may also use incorrect terms, for example, calling a "mug" a "drink-holder".

Withdrawal from work or social activities

The intricate demands of maintaining focus and coherence in conversations may contribute to a sense of isolation, prompting a retreat from professional engagements that were once navigated with ease.
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Due to the struggle with making and following conversation, you may notice an individual with dementia choosing more and more to pull out of social events that they once enjoyed. Another possible reason may be trouble keeping up with the activity, such as watching a football match.

Saying inappropriate things

Another manifestation often observed is the tendency to express inappropriate remarks. The cognitive decline associated with dementia can erode the filters that govern social interactions, leading individuals to unwittingly breach social norms.
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Sometimes, people suffering dementia can appear to have 'no filter' when they're speaking to others. This is because dementia can affect someone's inhibitions. They might no longer care for social rules and can rebel against the behavior expected of them.

Weight changes

In the intricate dance between dementia and weight changes, another aspect comes into focus— alterations in taste and smell perception. Individuals grappling with dementia may find their once-beloved meals less appealing, leading to a decreased appetite and subsequent weight loss.
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There are a couple of aspects linking weight change to dementia. An obvious reason is simply forgetting to eat or struggling to make meals. Another is down to burning more calories. Dementia can cause a person to pace more frequently or wander around.

Changes to physical appearance

Alterations in personal grooming habits may become apparent, with disregard of basic hygiene practices becoming a cause for concern. Unexplained weight loss or gain could also be indicative of cognitive decline, as individuals may struggle to manage their nutrition effectively.
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If you suspect early onset of dementia, then be sure to keep an eye out for any significant or consistent changes to a person's physical appearance. For example, someone who once took great pride in their appearance suddenly starting to go out in dirty or creased clothing.

Changes to sleeping pattern

Changes in sleeping patterns often serve as cryptic messengers signaling potential cognitive shifts associated with dementia. Individuals in the early stages of dementia may find themselves waking up more frequently during the night, disrupting the once-stable rhythm of their sleep.
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Conversely, some may experience a sudden inclination to nap during daylight hours, a behavior noticeably incongruent with their previous habits. It is crucial, however, to approach such alterations with a discerning eye, recognizing that various factors beyond dementia—such as stress, medications, or other health issues—can also contribute to shifts in one's typical sleeping routine.

Taking sarcasm literally

Individuals grappling with dementia may find themselves inadvertently grappling with the intricacies of sarcasm. The once well-trodden path of social cues becomes a labyrinth, and innocent expressions laced with sarcasm may be taken at face value.
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Some people with dementia can struggle to tell when a person is telling a lie, even when this would usually be obvious. Because of this, they can sometimes misinterpret a person's sarcasm as a genuine statement, so will take the statement literally.

Falling more frequently

The cognitive challenges posed by dementia can disrupt the brain's ability to process information about one's surroundings, making navigating familiar spaces a potential hazard. As a result, those grappling with dementia may find themselves stumbling or losing balance more frequently than before.
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As people age, it's not uncommon to have occasional falls. However, frequent falling may be a warning sign of early dementia.  This is down to dementia causing problems with mobility, strength and balance. They can also have trouble finding their way around, which can lead to falling.

Helpful Tips For Supporting Someone With Dementia: Be Patient

The art of patience extends beyond mere waiting; it encompasses a genuine understanding that each moment, even if marked by delays, holds the potential for connection and shared understanding, essential for people developing dementia.
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This can be difficult when the situation is often frustrating for everyone involved, but patience is key. When talking to a person with dementia, show them that you're listening and that you're not in any rush. Don't try to interrupt if you get tired of waiting, and wait until they've managed to say what they want to say.

Offer Reassurance As Often As You Can

Offering reassurance is akin to providing a steady anchor in the turbulent waters of cognitive challenges. Remind your loved one of their value and contribution, emphasizing their unique perspective and wisdom.
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It can be difficult and confusing for someone with dementia, which is why reassurance from loved ones is going to make all the difference. Reassure them as often as you can, and especially in busy social situations like family gatherings, where you can make sure they're involved in the conversation.

Don't Discourage Them From Speaking

It's crucial to practice patience and resist the urge to finish their sentences or jump in with your own thoughts. Allowing them the time to articulate their thoughts fosters a sense of empowerment and preserves their dignity. Creating a supportive environment involves active listening.
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If they're taking their time to get out their thoughts and express themselves, it can be easy to just dismiss it and move on if they're not saying what they want to say. If they're trying to communicate and having trouble with it, make sure to encourage them to carry on and try and say what they need.

Try Not To Criticize Or Correct Them

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If they've said something that sounds silly, wrong or ridiculous, you might feel like you want to tell them they're wrong, to stop saying things like that or jumping to correct them on what they've said. Instead, try to understand why they've said what they've said, and think maybe they meant to say something else. If it sounds wrong, ask for more details.

Don't Be Tempted To Argue - Just Let It Go

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At the end of the day, a person developing dementia isn't going to be able to be argued with or reasoned with when they've said something you don't agree with. There's just no point, as they can't change their way of thinking. You'll waste your own energy whilst also making them anxious or frustrated if you argue with them.

Make Guesses To Help Them Along

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Although you shouldn't interrupt or try to correct them, you can still try to help them along by making guesses at what they're trying to say. If they can't think of a word but you have some idea of what they're trying to say, you could make some suggestions. If they look like they're getting frustrated with all your suggestions, though, stop!

Make Them Know They Don't Have To Talk - They Can Gesture Instead

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Talking can be very frustrating when you can't find the words, so why not help them use gestures instead? You can ask them to point or make a certain gesture if they're trying to explain something, or ask you for something. You could even get some picture cards if that helps them to point at them.

Make Them A Quiet Place

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If they're still living at home, then make sure it's as peaceful and clutter-free as possible. Distractions and crowded rooms can easily make them overwhelmed or give them sensory overload, which won't help. So you might want to help them create a minimalist space without a lot of distractions.

Emotions Are Actually More Important Than Facts

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When someone with dementia is trying to communicate and finding it difficult, you might be focused on getting down to the facts and finding the right words. But actually focusing on their emotions is more important, as this can be helpful if you need to know whether they're trying to tell you they're scared of something, sad or happy about something.

Keep It Short And Sweet With Words!

Allow time for responses, and resist the urge to fill silences. Additionally, maintaining a consistent routine can provide comfort and familiarity, offering a stabilizing anchor in the face of cognitive challenges.
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You don't want to start trying to speak a Shakespearian monologue when your loved one is confused. It's much better to use simple and easy-to-understand words, direct questions and short sentences. Try not to ask more than one thing at once before waiting for an answer. Try to be as short and clear as possible!

Speaking Slowly Helps, Too

Maintaining a measured pace in your speech not only aids in clarity but also allows individuals grappling with dementia to process information more effectively. It provides them with the time needed to grasp the nuances of the conversation, fostering a more comfortable and engaging interaction.
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If you're trying to be clear and direct, it always helps to speak slowly, too! You might feel bad speaking this way as it can seem a little condescending, but it actually really helps to speak to them as though you were explaining something slowly and simply to a child. Having a lower and calming tone will help, too.

Don't Expect Them To Reply Straight Away

As you navigate conversations with someone experiencing dementia, it's crucial to exercise patience and resist the urge to fill the silence immediately. Give them the time and space they need to process information and formulate their thoughts.
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In a normal conversation, you wouldn't expect a long silence while waiting for a response, but with someone with dementia, it's usually the case. Even when you're speaking slowly and clearly, they still need time to process what you've said, as well as needing to think of their own response and what they want to say.

But It's Okay To Ask The Question Again

Allow a moment for the information to percolate, recognizing that the gears of cognition may be turning at a different pace. When repeating a question, consider using a reassuring tone, providing comfort rather than adding pressure. Additionally, observe non-verbal cues – a furrowed brow or a thoughtful gaze – as they may offer insights into the individual's comprehension.
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If the silence is going on too long and they're looking confused, it's okay (and might be helpful) to ask the question again. You might need to repeat it more slowly, or even shorten the question so it's more clear in case they didn't understand what you were saying the first time. Make sure to give them time before you ask the question again, though.

If They're Really Confused, You Can Give Statements Rather Than Questions

Understanding the nuances of effective communication with individuals experiencing dementia involves embracing a proactive and supportive approach. When you anticipate your loved one's basic needs, such as hunger or the need for restroom facilities, you create an environment that fosters comfort and minimizes frustration.
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If you know that your loved one hasn't eaten for a bit, or is probably due to go to the bathroom, and they're trying to communicate something to you, you might be able to guess what it is they're trying to say. Instead of prompting them with, 'Do you need a drink?' or other questions, you could just give helpful statements like, 'There's a drink on the table there,' or 'the bathroom is free'.

Fight Against Your Instincts To Use Euphemisms Or Idioms

As we unravel the intricacies of communication in the context of dementia, precision becomes a beacon, guiding us through the maze of potential misunderstandings.
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This one can be really difficult, because we all have it embedded in us to say things we're used to saying, like 'Break a leg!' to say good luck, or saying you're 'over the moon' about something. But language like this is going to be confusing to someone with dementia, and they might take things literally, too. So be very specific and literal!

Use Positive Language

Maintaining a positive and constructive approach when addressing concerns related to dementia is paramount. Instead of dwelling on potential challenges, consider framing discussions in an optimistic light, emphasizing alternative solutions and encouraging collaborative decision-making.
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You want to keep up a positive, clear and easy outlook on everything you're saying, which also avoids conflict. So instead of telling them not to do something, or saying no, say something more positive like 'let's do this instead' or 'I think maybe this is a better idea' instead of telling them they're wrong.

Point To And Touch Things When Trying To Explain Something

In the intricate dance of communication with someone experiencing dementia, embodying actions can be as powerful as words. Whether it's demonstrating the steps to a familiar routine or physically pointing to an object during a conversation, your actions become a visual language that transcends the barriers of verbal expression.
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As well as gestures and visual clues being helpful for them when trying to explain their feelings, it can also be helpful for them to see you doing the same. Pointing to something physical or gesturing to something during tasks or conversations can help them to understand without needing to use too many words.

Don't Be Tempted To Test Their Memory

Fostering a supportive environment involves understanding that testing a person's memory can lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Constantly probing with questions about past events may inadvertently contribute to feelings of inadequacy and confusion,
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When dementia comes on, it can be really tempting to try and 'test' their memory to see how their memory is doing today, or to see regularly whether it's got worse. It's not a good thing to constantly be asking them what they remember, though, or prompting memories like, 'Do you remember when I was little and we went to...' etc. Because this can just cause frustration when they don't know what you're talking about.

Make Short Notes

Consider creating a centralized list of important information, such as emergency contacts and daily routines, for easy reference. Encourage the use of calendars or reminder apps to help maintain a sense of structure.
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This can be really helpful for them if you constantly write things down for them - but make sure it's short and simple! Sticky notes can be a great idea if there's something simple you can bullet-point down and put the sticky note somewhere around the house. Writing things down that they most struggle with can be more helpful!

Don't Act Like They Aren't There

Avoiding distractions and creating a conducive environment for communication is crucial. In bustling social settings, it's essential to minimize background noise and ensure a clear line of sight, making it easier for individuals exhibiting early signs of dementia to engage in conversations without added stress.
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This one can be difficult in busy social situations because if they're struggling to remember things or verbalise in conversation, it can be easy to turn to someone else and leave them to it, which can make them feel like they're being ignored. Try to involve them as much as you can, even if it's non-verbal like constantly looking at them, smiling at them and standing close while talking to someone else.