Ruby smiling beside her granddad, George, who sits in a red armchair

‘Grandad wasn’t himself’ - Spotting changes in behaviour before a dementia diagnosis

Ruby and her family started to see changes in her Grandad, George’s behaviour before he was diagnosed with mixed dementia. Ruby tells her story of what these changes meant and how the family dealt with them.

My family and I first started noticing changes in my Grandad, George’s behaviour about four years ago. He had to stop driving due to his eyesight and he seemed really down afterwards.  We thought losing his independence was making him sad and as Nana doesn’t drive, they stopped going out as much.

Grandad wasn’t himself and he seemed bored. We thought maybe he was depressed because they were no longer able to get out and about.  

We didn’t suspect it was dementia at this point, but we did worry that something wasn’t quite right.

Grandad had started asking after a family friend repeatedly out of the blue. My sister and I thought he should probably visit his doctor, but he was spectacularly stubborn. His strong will could be inspiring, but in this case, it made things difficult. He rarely visited the doctor and certainly didn’t want to go when he didn’t think he was unwell.

Nana wasn’t sure what do as she knew that Grandad wouldn’t want other people to interfere. It was a difficult discussion to have about Grandad needing to have a mental health check-up. My Dad and Aunt managed to get Nana on board. Everyone agreed that he needed some help.

We approached the doctor’s appointment as more of general check-up, which made it easier for Grandad to understand. Even so it was a big effort to get him to there.

He’d had the same doctor since the 70s, so he was easily able to see the difference in Grandad. The doctor referred him to have a mental health assessment and he was diagnosed with mixed dementia the following month.

After Grandad's dementia diagnosis

Even though we had an idea of what was coming, Grandad’s dementia diagnosis was a lot to process for our family. But it was also a relief to understand his symptoms and to know that he was on the health services’ radar, if we’d need help in the future.

We’re not sure if Grandad was able to fully understand his diagnosis as his dementia was already quite advanced. And since his memory problems started, he tended to keep quiet if he didn’t understand something rather than speaking out.

I find it interesting that the early signs of dementia, didn’t show up. Nana ran the household, paid the bills and cooked. This made Grandad’s dementia very difficult to spot as to us as there were no obvious red flags. It was only after Grandad’s diagnosis that his dementia symptoms really became apparent to us.

He started finding it hard to follow a conversation. He was always interested in what we were up to, but he stopped asking the usual questions I was used to when I would chat with him. He also started closing his eyes when talking (which I’ve since learned is a way of shutting out stimulus) and twiddling his hair, which I think he found comforting.

Shaving was always part of Grandad’s routine and he took pride in being clean shaven. This gradually fell away, and he stopped wanting to shower too. As his dementia progressed his self-care lessened, which was sad to see. We couldn’t tell if he didn’t want to shower or shave or if he wasn’t aware that he should.

Old photos of a younger Ruby and her sister with her their Grandad, George

Ruby and her sister encouraged their grandfather to see his GP to assess the changes in his behaviour

As Grandad’s behaviour continued to change, I supported Nana by researching dementia and I found the Alzheimer’s Society website very helpful.

I would read up on symptoms and explain to her why Grandad might be behaving in a certain way.  It was reassuring for us both to have this information. 

I’d advise anyone who is worried about a family member’s memory that it’s always better to voice a concern and it be wrong, than not voicing a concern – try to seek help as soon as you start noticing symptoms.

The earlier you can find support the better. It’s definitely helpful to face memory problems head on.

Worried about someone's memory?

If you are worried about the behaviour or memory of someone close to you, Alzheimer's Society can provide free support and advice on what to do next.

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