What is dementia?

2. Symptoms of dementia

Each person is unique and will experience dementia in their own way. The different types of dementia also tend to affect people differently, especially in the early stages. Other factors that will affect how well someone can live with dementia include how other people respond to them and the environment around them.

A person with dementia will have cognitive symptoms (to do with thinking or memory). They will often have problems with some of the following:

  • day-to-day memory – for example, difficulty recalling events that happened recently
  • concentrating, planning or organising – for example, difficulties making decisions, solving problems or carrying out a sequence of tasks (such as cooking a meal)
  • language – for example, difficulties following a conversation or finding the right word for something
  • visuospatial skills – for example, problems judging distances (such as on stairs) and seeing objects in three dimensions
  • orientation – for example, losing track of the day or date, or becoming confused about where they are.

A person with dementia will also often have changes in their mood. For example, they may become frustrated or irritable, apathetic or withdrawn, anxious, easily upset or unusually sad. With some types of dementia, the person may see things that are not really there (visual hallucinations) or strongly believe things that are not true (delusions).

Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms gradually get worse over time. How quickly this happens varies greatly from person to person. As dementia progresses, the person may develop behaviours that seem unusual or out of character. These behaviours may include asking the same question over and over, pacing, restlessness or agitation. They can be distressing or challenging for the person and those close to them.

A person with dementia, especially in the later stages, may have physical symptoms such as muscle weakness or weight loss. Changes in sleep pattern and appetite are also common.