Forgetful? Look for these early signs of dementia

‘Of all the things, I miss my mind the most,’ this quote by renowned author Mark Twain speaks of memory loss and dementia. Dementia is a neurological disease that usually occurs after the age of 60, says Arti Shroff, Mumbai-based clinical psychologist

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Dementia is a general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life. It is caused by physical changes in the brain. It is marked by memory loss, impaired cognitive functions, compromised volition as well as changes in personality. It is caused by the degeneration of the brain cells.

The varied symptoms of dementia which include memory loss, loss of decision making, personality changes, impaired cognition, hallucinations, paranoia and disorientation among many lead to an all-round impediment in the functioning of the individual suffering from dementia.

Physicians often define dementia based on the criteria given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The latest version, the fifth edition (DSM-5), includes a new, broader diagnostic category called major Neurocognitive Disorders (NCD), which incorporates the former diagnosis of dementia.

Arti Shroff, Mumbai-based clinical psychologist
Arti Shroff, Mumbai-based clinical psychologist

To meet the DSM-5 criteria for major neurocognitive disorder, an individual must have evidence of significant cognitive decline in memory or another cognitive ability, such as language or learning, which interferes with independence in everyday activities. For example, an individual may need assistance with complex activities such as paying bills or managing medications.

Dementia has been deemed as a ‘silent epidemic’ which is the single greatest cause of disability in over 65 year olds worldwide. It is estimated 35.6 million people suffer from dementia (2010), the numbers nearly doubling every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050 (World Dementia Report).

Recent research from Alzheimer’s Research UK says, this condition has started afflicting people 10 years younger than in the past. Many researches also have indicated people as young as in their early 40’s are developing dementia. One can only imagine the consequences and implications that will be borne for individuals afflicted with such significant neurological deficits. An individual in the prime of their life and career who is afflicted with this illness will have to face severe repercussions the symptoms will bring.

Recent researches have seen a significant rise in individuals developing dementia at an earlier age than that which was prevalent earlier.

Signs of early Neurocognitive Disorders:

  • Forgetting information that has been learned recently. Short-term memory is affected e.g., forgetting a doctor’s appointment, people’s names, and chores.
  • Being confused about time or place.
  • Changes in mood and personality; becoming irritable or withdrawn
  • Not being able to complete tasks; forgetting things midway
  • Difficulty in maintaining a stream of conversation; forgetting words, names, places etc.
  • Problems in decision making
  • Misplacing things and losing personal items

The author is a clinical psychologist based in Mumbai