Losing our memory, our sense of self and identity sounds like a living nightmare.
And for many people suffering with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, it is.
But how can you tell if you or a loved one are experiencing the early stages of Alzheimers?
Forgetfulness is common, particularly as we get older. Who hasn't struggled to remember someone's name?
And walking into a room with no memory of what you walked in for is another all-too common experience. Although disorientating, and sometimes worrying, these lapses in memory aren't usually anything to worry about.
Professor Hana Burianova, a scientist and advisor for British supplement brand Healthspan, says: 'When the brain is pathologically ageing, the neurons - which transmit messages to other parts of the brain - are dying. This neuron death is what happens with Alzheimers'
'Our brains start ageing from our early 20s,' says Professor Hana Burianova, a neuroscientist at Bournemouth University and advisor for British supplement brand Healthspan.
'Once they stop developing, they begin to age, which means it's losing connections between different parts.
However, the brain is plastic and if we're active and social, if we exercise and eat a healthy diet we can make new connections right up until old age.
'But when the brain is pathologically ageing, the neurons - which transmit messages to other parts of the brain - are dying. This neuron death is what happens with Alzheimers.'
So what are the memory and behaviour changes that are cause for concern? Professor Burianova reveals the tell-tale signs you should never ignore.
What is dementia?
A global concern
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour.
There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
How many people are affected?
The Alzheimer's Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.
In the US, it's estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer's sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
Is there a cure?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.
Source: Alzheimer’s Society
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One of the hallmarks of early Alzheimer's is loss of memory. But how can you tell if an older loved one is being scatty or there's something more concerning at work?
'We know from research that older adults, aged 65-plus, will lose some detail in autobiographical memory, but their memory for facts and words is better than younger people,' says Professor Burianova.
And often much of the typical 'forgetfulness' of otherwise healthy older people might be because they're not paying attention in the first place.
'They may not be "encoding" the information, for instance perhaps they were told a story at a party but they were distracted,' she says.
'The difference between a brain that's ageing healthily, and pathological degeneration is the progressive dying of neurons. The changes will occur gradually.'
The death of these neurons typically takes place in the parts of the brain involved in memory such as the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus.
Someone will forget conversations they just had, or they may get lost somewhere they know well, or forget the route home, despite doing it countless times before.
'Anyone can forget to turn off the stove, but with someone with Alzheimer's, it keeps happening,' she says.
Most of us are all too familiar with loved ones who've been telling the same stories for years.
However, unlike Aunt Mary relating the tale about the nice neighbour who came to trim her hedges whenever you visit, someone with Alzheimer's will repeat the same information over and over again often in a short space of time.
'We all tell stories several times, especially to our partners. There might be a cue that reminds us, and that's the trigger for our retrieval,' says Professor Burianova.
'But someone with Alzheimer's will repeat something three times in a row. It's a symptom of their short term memory loss.'
Sudden changes in mood
If your otherwise level loved one suddenly becomes anxious or depressed, it could be more than a mid-life crisis.
'Early signs of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), which Bruce Willis has, include changes in personality. It's very hard as people get depressed and anxious,' says Professor Burianova.
'Someone will try to find out why their beloved is suffering from mental health issues, but it's more than that - it's because part of the brain is deteriorating.
'Picture the brain as a big net and part of the net starts being broken, then the rest of the net starts to rip. Depending on where that process starts, it will govern the symptoms.
'FTD has secondary symptoms like memory loss and physiological issues such as bowel problems.'
Last month Bruce Willis was given a second diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, less than year after it emerged he had an untreatable brain disorder. Pictured above, in 2019 at the European premier of Glass in 2021
They can't speak
If a previously fluent speaker suddenly starts tripping over their words, take heed.
They might have aphasia, where a person has difficulty with speech and understanding language, which can be caused by FTD.
Bruce Willis has recently shone a light on this kind of dementia, revealing that the giveaway that he had the condition was his struggle with language.
'There is an area in the frontal lobe which has to do with the initiation of language,' says Professor Burianova.
'You might be telling them something and you realise they don't understand. Or they start stuttering or stumble as they try to produce language.'
If your hitherto quiet and modest grandmother starts telling crude jokes, there may be more afoot than a new addiction to Mrs Brown's Boys.
'Depending on what kind of dementia you have, your personality can change once it starts affecting your prefrontal cortex,' says Professor Burianova.
'There can be a lot of fear or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), you can become super obsessive and some people become disinhibited.
'Suddenly your grandma starts making lewd remarks to men on the street, or they start taking off their clothes.
'There could be aggression too, but that could be because they're afraid of their environment and feel extremely vulnerable.'
How to keep your brain sharp
From the right diet to staying active, a few lifestyle tweaks can give your grey matter a new lease of life
Get those omega-3s
Our brains love the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel.
One study of more than 2,000 adults found eating fish twice a week appeared to reduce the risk of dementia by 44 per cent.
What makes fish – particularly oily or fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines - so beneficial for vascular or brain health is its omega 3 essential fatty acid content.
Omega 3 appears to support blood flow to the brain, which helps support memory and reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
For vegetarians and vegans, avocados, nuts, seeds and plants oils such as flaxseed and olive oil are rich in omega-3 fats.
Don’t stop moving
As if you needed any other reasons to exercise, working out is essential to your grey matter.
Getting hot and sweaty increases blood flow to the brain, which is thought to encourage enzymes to break down proteins that can build up into the damaging brain plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
A 2017 review examining the effects of exercise on at-risk people found that aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking and swimming, was three times more beneficial than those who did a mixture of cardio and weights.
However, older people who do any sort of exercise at all demonstrated better cognitive ability than people who did nothing.
Nootropics are a new generation of drugs that are thought to help boost cognitive function.
The term is used to refer to any natural or synthetic substance that may have a positive impact on mental skills.
These can include known natural brain-boosting vitamins and minerals but also lesser-known herbs including ginkgo biloba (said to have neuroprotective effects and thought to help reduce the build-up of amyloid plaque linked to some forms of dementia) and Bacopa monnieri (one clinical trial found taking 300mg of it daily delayed word recall in the over 65s compared to placebo treatment).
Caffeine is also classed as a nootropic and having your usual coffee or tea pick-me-up – or even chewing caffeine gum - has been shown to help boost mental alertness, particularly if you are tired.
Learn new things
Our brain loves new things and when we are not exposed to anything new cognitive decline becomes more likely.
This doesn’t have to be ultra-challenging or daunting like learning a new language or signing up to an OU course - it can include something as simple as walking on the different side of the road on your usual route to work or brushing your teeth with your left hand when you are right-handed (or vice versa) to give your brain a mini work-out.
And it’s not all obviously ‘brainy’ stuff that is beneficial.
Eat your greens
According to a 2018 study from Rush University, just one serving of green vegetables a day for an average of 4.7 years is enough to help to slow cognitive decline, giving the study volunteers the brain of someone 11 years younger.
So load up on kale, spinach, broccoli which provide brain-friendly nutrients including vitamin K, lutein, nitrate and folate.
Boost your gut bugs
Understanding of the importance of our gut is growing by the day, particularly the relationship between our gut microbiome and the brain, called the brain-gut axis.
The theory goes that the healthier your gut is, teeming with trillions of bacteria, ideally a diverse mix of 'friendly' bugs, the better your brain health is.
Research shows that following the Mediterranean diet - primarily plant-based, filled with anti-inflammatory fruit and vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids, fish and extra virgin olive oil - can nurture the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut.
Loneliness can take a huge toll on our mental and physical health and it’s particularly stressful for our brains.
‘Social connectedness is important not only for our emotional health, but also for cognitive resilience’, says Professor Burianova.
‘Research has shown that feeling lonely more than doubles the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.’
She advises anyone feeling lonely not to feel bashful but to reach out to others.
A hot chocolate before bed may be doing more than helping you sleep.
A small Italian study involving healthy volunteers aged between 50 and 69 found that a specially prepared cocoa drink, containing large amounts of flavanols - powerful polyphenols - showed a decline in memory loss.
Researchers think the drink increased the blood flow to a specific region of the brain concerned with memory.
Get to bed
Unsurprisingly, a good night’s sleep has a huge impact on our cognitive health.
A 2017 Greek study showed that a lack of sleep, and poor quality sleep, were associated with poorer memory in men and women over 65.
The position you sleep in could also play a part. Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York found that sleeping on your side can more effectively contribute to a night time ‘power cleanse’ helping to remove brain waste, like beta-amyloid proteins, implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.
What is the 5 word test? ›
Abstract. Introduction: The five-word test (5WT) is a serial verbal memory test with semantic cuing. It is proposed to rapidly evaluate memory of aging people and has previously shown its sensitivity and its specificity in identifying patients with AD.What is the most obvious symptom indicating dementia? ›
- memory loss.
- difficulty concentrating.
- finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping.
- struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word.
- being confused about time and place.
- mood changes.
The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer's and other dementias is increasing age, but these disorders are not a normal part of aging. While age increases risk, it is not a direct cause of Alzheimer's. Most individuals with the disease are 65 and older.What are the 4 warning signs of dementia? ›
- memory problems, particularly remembering recent events.
- increasing confusion.
- reduced concentration.
- personality or behaviour changes.
- apathy and withdrawal or depression.
- loss of ability to do everyday tasks.
19 -- Mild cognitive impairment can be determined in less than five minutes with a three-word memory test and a clock-drawing task, according to researchers here. The words are apple, penny, and table.What is the 3 word test for dementia? ›
The Mini-Cog test.
A third test, known as the Mini-Cog, takes 2 to 4 minutes to administer and involves asking patients to recall three words after drawing a picture of a clock. If a patient shows no difficulties recalling the words, it is inferred that he or she does not have dementia.
Depression, nutritional deficiencies, side-effects from medications and emotional distress can all produce symptoms that can be mistaken as early signs of dementia, such as communication and memory difficulties and behavioural changes.What can trigger dementia? ›
- Diet and exercise. Research shows that lack of exercise increases the risk of dementia. ...
- Excessive alcohol use. Drinking large amounts of alcohol has long been known to cause brain changes. ...
- Cardiovascular risk factors. ...
- Depression. ...
- Diabetes. ...
- Smoking. ...
- Air pollution. ...
- Head trauma.
The Mini-Cog© is a fast and simple screening test to help detect dementia in its early stages. In just 3 minutes, Mini-Cog© can help doctors and other professional care providers identify possible cognitive impairment in older patients.What is the fastest declining dementia? ›
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease causes a type of dementia that gets worse unusually fast. More common causes of dementia, such as Alzheimer's, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia, typically progress more slowly.
What is the slowest progressing dementia? ›
Alzheimer's often develops gradually and may be the slowest of all types to progress.
Common forms of dementia
Dementia is caused by many different diseases or injuries that directly and indirectly damage the brain. Alzheimer disease is the most common form and may contribute to 60–70% of cases.
Some of the more common triggers for dementia like a change in environment, having personal space invaded, or being emotionally overwhelmed may be easier to handle if you mentally practice your response before you react.What is the 5 minute test for early dementia? ›
The five-minute cognitive test (FCT) was designed to capture deficits in five domains of cognitive abilities, including episodic memory, language fluency, time orientation, visuospatial function, and executive function.What is one of the first signs of cognitive decline? ›
You have trouble following a conversation. You find it hard to make decisions, finish a task or follow instructions. You start to have trouble finding your way around places you know well. You begin to have poor judgment.What is the 5 word memory test for dementia? ›
Short-term memory/delayed recall: Five words are read. The test-taker is asked to repeat them. After completing other tasks, the person is asked to repeat each of the five words again. If they can't recall them, they're given a cue of the category that the word belongs to.What is the 10 word memory test? ›
A list of ten unrelated words are orally presented one by one, and subjects are instructed to recall as many items as possible immediately after their presentation (immediate free recall, the traditional span task) and after a predetermined time, in general 5 to 10 minutes (delayed free recall).What is the 4 word memory test? ›
The Four Word Short-Term Memory Test presents subjects with four words at the rate of one word per second and subjects are then asked to recall the words following a distractor interval of counting backwards by threes for 5, 15 or 30 s.What is the 12 question dementia test? ›
The SAGE test is a 12-question exam that measures cognitive functioning and may help a physician determine whether Alzheimer's is present. It's recommended that you bring your completed test to a medical professional who can score and interpret the results. If necessary, your doctors will provide further screening.What is the six question dementia test? ›
The Six Item Cognitive Impairment Test (6CIT) is a brief cognitive function test which takes less than five minutes and is widely used in primary care settings. It involves three orientation items – counting backwards from 20, stating the months of the year in reverse and learning an address.
What is the one minute naming test? ›
The goal is to ask the person to simply name as many animals as possible in a certain time period, such as one minute. You must write down the answers, so you can check for duplicate responses. You do not count nor do you mention that they already said that one before.What vitamin deficiencies mimic dementia? ›
This finding can be the basis of a hypothesis that chronic, very low levels of vitamin B12 could be the cause of permanent, or at least refractory, changes in cognition and memory, which can lead to dementia.What is unusual behavior with dementia? ›
increased agitation. aggression (shouting or screaming, verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse) delusions (unusual beliefs not based on reality) hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that do not exist)What is pseudo dementia? ›
Introduction. Depressive cognitive disorders, also called pseudodementia (a term founded by Kiloh in the year 1961), is defined as the cognitive and functional impairment imitating neurodegenerative disorders caused secondary to neuropsychiatric symptoms.Is dementia inherited from mother or father? ›
Many people affected by dementia are concerned that they may inherit or pass on dementia. The majority of dementia is not inherited by children and grandchildren. In rarer types of dementia there may be a strong genetic link, but these are only a tiny proportion of overall cases of dementia.What is the life expectancy with someone with dementia? ›
The average life expectancy figures for the most common types of dementia are as follows: Alzheimer's disease – around eight to 10 years. Life expectancy is less if the person is diagnosed in their 80s or 90s. A few people with Alzheimer's live for longer, sometimes for 15 or even 20 years.What makes dementia worse? ›
Over time, the disease causing the dementia spreads to other parts of the brain. This leads to more symptoms because more of the brain is unable to work properly. At the same time, already-damaged areas of the brain become even more affected, causing symptoms the person already has to get worse.What is the 12 word memory test? ›
The 12 words are as follows: vase, cookie, holiday, computer, crown, fox, bridge, magic, office, ink, green and vehicle. They are all split into four sections and the aim of the game is to not only remember what they are but where they were.What is the 4 hour test for dementia? ›
This process lasts around four hours and includes a series of in-depth analyses, such as one-on-one interviews and written and oral tests. These assessments are designed to gauge specific cognitive functions, like attention, problem solving, spatial skills, and executive functioning.
Blood tests are also used for genetic tests which can reveal, for example, if someone has the defective genes usually present in frontotemporal dementia (Pick's disease) or young onset Alzheimer's. Genetic blood tests look for abnormalities in DNA, particularly gene mutations which can cause permanent change to DNA.
What should you not do with dementia? ›
I'm going to discuss five of the most basic ones here: 1) Don't tell them they are wrong about something, 2) Don't argue with them, 3) Don't ask if they remember something, 4) Don't remind them that their spouse, parent or other loved one is dead, and 5) Don't bring up topics that may upset them.Has anyone ever beat dementia? ›
There is currently no "cure" for dementia. In fact, because dementia is caused by different diseases it is unlikely that there will be a single cure for dementia. Research is aimed at finding cures for dementia-causing diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies.What it means when a person with dementia says I want to go home? ›
Often when a person with dementia asks to go home it refers to the sense of 'home' rather than home itself. 'Home' may represent memories of a time or place that was comfortable and secure and where they felt relaxed and happier. It could also be an indefinable place that may not physically exist.Do CBD gummies help with dementia? ›
There are no research studies that prove cannabis, or products such as cannabis oil (CBD oil), can stop, slow, reverse or prevent the diseases that cause dementia. Some studies suggest cannabis could help to manage a few behavioural symptoms of dementia, such as agitation and aggression.Can dementia stay mild? ›
People may still be able to function independently in mild dementia. However, they'll experience memory lapses that affect daily life, such as forgetting words or where things are. Common symptoms of mild dementia include: memory loss of recent events.What is the most common cause of death in dementia patients? ›
One of the most common causes of death for people with dementia is pneumonia caused by an infection. A person in the later stages of dementia may have symptoms that suggest that they are close to death, but can sometimes live with these symptoms for many months.Does alcohol cause dementia? ›
Excessive alcohol consumption over a lengthy time period can lead to brain damage, and may increase your risk of developing dementia. However, drinking alcohol in moderation has not been conclusively linked to an increased dementia risk, nor has it been shown to offer significant protection against developing dementia.Can stress cause dementia? ›
The current evidence indicates that while chronic stress may play a role in the development or progression of dementia, it does not necessarily cause dementia.Is it always dementia if it's not normal aging? ›
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It includes the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a person's quality of life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign of dementia.What morning habit increases dementia? ›
One of the habits that can increase your risk of developing dementia by four times is the habit of skipping your breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Having a nutritious and healthy meal in the morning can help you concentrate and keep you active all day long.
What three things most often cause people with dementia to feel over stimulated? ›
- Not being able to distinguish important items from trash.
- A desire for security or fear of being robbed.
- Boredom and being understimulated.
- Forgetting where they've put items like the remote, keys or wallets.
The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) is a brief self-administered cognitive screening instrument used to identify mild cognitive impairment (MCI) from any cause and early dementia.What is the most reliable test for dementia? ›
Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE)
The MMSE is the most common test for the screening of dementia. It assesses skills such as reading, writing, orientation and short-term memory.
The three-item recall is scored as a maximum of three points, one for each word that is correctly recalled. In the CDT, the patient is asked to spontaneously draw a circular clock displaying a particular time (11:10).What is the difference between forgetfulness and dementia? ›
People who use post-it notes or electronic reminders are likely to be experiencing “normal” forgetfulness. On the other hand, people who don't remember what their reminders are there for, may be displaying symptoms of dementia. Transience is when the brain forgets some memories over time.What do dementia patients think about? ›
People with dementia think about the same things that any human thinks about — emotions, relationships, daily life, tasks to accomplish, and more. Receiving a life-changing diagnosis of dementia does not strip a person of their humanity and personhood.What is the clock drawing test for dementia? ›
The clock-drawing test is a quick way to screen for early dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. It involves drawing a clock on a piece of paper with numbers, clock hands, and a specific time. The inability to do so is a strong indication of mental decline.How can I test myself for early dementia? ›
The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam, known as SAGE, is a brief, pen-and-paper cognitive assessment tool designed to detect the early signs of cognitive, memory, or thinking impairments. The test evaluates your thinking abilities. This can help your doctors understand how well your brain is functioning.What is the quick memory test for seniors? ›
Mini-Cog - The Mini-Cog is a 3-minute test consisting of a recall test for memory and a scored clock-drawing test. It can be used effectively after brief training and results are evaluated by a health provider to determine if a full-diagnostic assessment is needed.What is the most sensitive cognitive test for dementia? ›
The Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) is the most common screening test for cognitive impairment such as dementia. It consists of 11 questions or tasks grouped under seven “cognitive domains.” A person can complete the test within five minutes. A person can get a possible score of 30.
Is dementia is Hereditary? ›
Many people affected by dementia are concerned that they may inherit or pass on dementia. The majority of dementia is not inherited by children and grandchildren. In rarer types of dementia there may be a strong genetic link, but these are only a tiny proportion of overall cases of dementia.Why can't dementia patients draw clocks? ›
Perseveration clock-drawing errors are likely due to impairment of executive function in the prefrontal area of the frontal lobe, which is found in many dementia disorders.Why did my doctor ask me to draw a clock? ›
The Clock Drawing Test (CDT) is a simple neuropsychometric instrument that can be easily applied to assess several cognitive functions. Over the past 20 years, the CDT has aroused considerable interest in its role for the early screening of cognitive impairment, especially in dementia.What is the most common test for dementia? ›
These tests can identify strokes, tumors, and other problems that can cause dementia. Scans also identify changes in the brain's structure and function. The most common scans are: Computed tomography (CT), which uses X-rays to produce images of the brain and other organs.
There is no single test that can determine if a person is living with Alzheimer's or another dementia.How does a neurologist test for memory loss? ›
People may be asked to name objects, follow verbal and written commands, write a sentence, or draw a complex shape. Doctors may ask you to walk a short distance, because problems with gait can signal other conditions involving memory loss, such as normal pressure hydrocephalus.
MRI can be used to rule out other causes, find characteristic patterns of brain damage, and differentiate between types of dementia. Brain scans do not always show abnormalities in people diagnosed with dementia, as sometimes there are no visible changes in the brain.