Navigating the Early Stages of Dementia: Recognising Signs and Providing Compassionate Support

Blog

2nd January 2024

Introduction

Dementia, a condition as diverse as the individuals it affects, often begins with subtle signs that
demand our attention. In the initial stages, those grappling with dementia typically maintain a level
of independence, requiring only minimal assistance. Understanding these early signs is crucial, and
equally important is the need to focus on empowering the individual rather than taking control of
their daily tasks.

Independence and Supportive Assistance

During the early stages of dementia, many individuals continue to lead independent lives. Instead of
assuming tasks for them, it's beneficial to engage in activities together. This may involve helping
them establish a daily routine, creating reminder lists and prompts, and integrating technology to
provide additional support tailored to their needs.

Planning Ahead

The early stages of dementia present a unique opportunity for individuals to plan for the future
while they retain mental capacity. Initiatives such as Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), advance
decisions, and advance statements become crucial tools to ensure that their preferences and wishes
are clearly communicated and respected. Deborah of Honey Legal comes recommended and her
details can be found on her Honey Customer Portal

Early-Stage Symptoms Overview

As a general guide, the early stage of dementia lasts approximately two years. During this phase, a
range of common symptoms begins to impact daily life, providing early indications of the condition:

1. Memory Problems

Subtle Forgetfulness: - Difficulty recalling recent events and misplacing items, such as keys and
glasses, may become more frequent. Memory loss often takes centre stage in early Alzheimer’s

disease and, to a lesser extent, in vascular dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Notably,
early frontotemporal dementia (FTD) typically doesn't manifest with memory loss.

2. Challenges in Thinking and Planning

Cognitive Strain: - Increased confusion, difficulty in planning, and challenges in making complex
decisions or solving problems may become apparent.

3. Language and Communication Issues

Word Retrieval Difficulty: - Individuals may struggle to find the right words and may have difficulty
following or participating in conversations. Language-related problems are particularly noticeable in
specific types of FTD.

4. Poor Orientation

Spatial Disorientation: - Difficulty recognising familiar places and an increased risk of getting lost,
even in familiar surroundings, may pose challenges.

5. Visual-Perceptual Difficulties

Judgment of Distances: - Problems judging distances, especially on stairs, may become more
apparent. Visual-perceptual difficulties are more common in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and
DLB.

6. Changes in Mood or Emotion

Emotional Variability: - Increased anxiety, fear, or sadness, coupled with irritability, frustration, and
withdrawal from activities or people, may manifest. Behavioural changes are not common in the
early stages, except for behavioural variant FTD.

It's crucial to note that significant physical changes during this stage are generally limited. However,
in cases of DLB, movement problems akin to Parkinson’s disease may occur. Similarly, if an individual
with vascular or mixed dementia experiences a stroke, weakness in one side of the body may result.

Help improve memory & focus in early signs of cognitive decline: Boost
brainpower & mental clarity

To assist cognitive decline, especially in early stages work towards improving memory and focus,
consider encouraging the following strategies to give comfort for the dementia sufferer.

1. Adopt a Brain-Healthy Diet:

- Prioritize foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins. These nutrients support
brain health and may contribute to enhanced cognitive function. Include items like berries, fatty fish,
nuts, and leafy greens in your diet.

2. Stay Hydrated:

- Dehydration can impact cognitive function, so ensure you maintain proper hydration by drinking
an adequate amount of water throughout the day.

3. Regular Exercise:

- Engage in regular physical activity to promote blood flow to the brain. Aim for activities such as
walking, swimming, or gentle exercises to support cognitive health.

4. Adequate Sleep:

- Prioritize quality sleep by establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a conducive sleep
environment. Lack of sleep can contribute to memory and focus issues.

5. Stress Management:

- Chronic stress can accelerate cognitive decline. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as
mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to manage stress levels effectively.

6. Cognitive Exercises:

- Stimulate your brain with activities that challenge your cognitive abilities. Puzzles, memory
games, and mental exercises can help maintain and enhance memory and focus.

7. Social Engagement:

- Stay socially active to promote cognitive stimulation. Regular interactions with friends, family, or
community groups can have positive effects on memory and focus.

8. Continuous Learning:

- Keep your brain engaged by learning new skills or taking up new hobbies. Lifelong learning can
contribute to cognitive resilience.

9. Mindful Practices:

- Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Mindful activities, such as meditation or deep
breathing exercises, can enhance focus and concentration.

10. Organisational Strategies:

- Use tools like calendars, planners, or reminder apps to stay organised. Structure and routine can
help mitigate forgetfulness and improve overall cognitive function.

11. Supplements for Brain Health:

- Consider consulting with a healthcare professional about supplements that may support
cognitive health, such as omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin B complex.

12. Limiting Distractions:

- Create an environment that minimizes distractions to help you stay focused. Turn off
unnecessary notifications and establish dedicated spaces for work or concentration.

13. Regular Health Check-ups:

- Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor and address any underlying
health issues that may contribute to cognitive decline.

It's important to note that if you or someone you know is experiencing persistent cognitive decline,
consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial. Early intervention and personalised guidance can
make a significant difference in managing and potentially slowing down cognitive decline.

You can find further assistance in the Alzheimer’s article, Early-stage signs and symptoms of
dementia & in the DementiaUK article, What are the symptoms of Dementia?

Providing Support and Preserving Dignity

Recognising and understanding these early signs play a pivotal role in providing appropriate support
and care for individuals in the initial stages of dementia. By approaching this journey with empathy,
patience, and a commitment to knowledge, we can create environments that not only address the
challenges posed by dementia but also uphold the dignity of those affected. You can see more
guidance for this in our article Cultivating Comfort: A Compassionate Guide to Crafting a Dementia-
Friendly Home.