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Six early signs of dementia to look out for this Christmas

The early symptoms of dementia can creep up slowly on families – and the festive season can bring them to the fore.

Christmas is a time when we get to take a rare break from work and spend some much-needed quality time with our families, squabbling over board games and pigging out on festive foods.

But with many people getting together for the first time in months, it can also be a common time for noticing stark changes in a loved one.

According to Dementia UK, there’s a notable increase in people getting in touch for information on the disease over the Christmas period, as relatives spend more time in each other’s company.

While memory loss is one of the most widely recognised symptoms of dementia, the condition can actually cause a range of symptoms in the early stages, with various types of dementia affecting people differently.

Initially, the signs are more subtle and harder to spot, but it’s a good idea to know some of the early indicators to look out for, particularly at this time of year. Although these things don’t automatically mean somebody has dementia, it’s a good idea to seek advice and speak with your GP sooner rather than later if you’re at all concerned.

Here, John Ramsay, CEO of Shift 8 (the company bringing Tovertafel – a cutting-edge dementia care product – to the UK), outlines 6 common signs of dementia to keep in mind this festive season…

1. Memory loss

Generic photo of man with dementia looking at pair of shoes (Thinkstock/PA)
Forgetfulness can be a sign of dementia

We’ve all had those days where we’ve forgotten our keys or left the lights on by mistake at home, but how do you know when forgetfulness has become something more serious? “This is one of the hardest symptoms to define, as people’s ability to remember events and conversations naturally vary,” explains John. “However, while anyone can be forgetful, it can become apparent when the loss of memory starts suddenly, or perhaps has grown worse over a year or so. While memory loss affects people differently, you may notice that your relative can recall a surprising range of facts or experiences from their earlier years, but will be forgetful about recent events.”

2. Abnormal movements or restlessness

Usually, Christmas is a time for over-buying food, drink and gifts to make sure you don’t get caught short when you have guests over, but hoarding can be a big indicator that something isn’t quite right. “Often, a person displaying symptoms of dementia will forget they have already bought something, so they will go out and get the exact same thing,” says John. “My dad was constantly making copies of the house keys and buying exactly the same items from the shops more than three times a day.”

4. Mood swings

Unhappy elderly woman and her daughter chatting on sofa (Thinkstock/PA)
Mood swings can be common with dementia

One of the most challenging symptoms to come to terms with is the mood swings that can develop with early-onset dementia. “Understandably, frustrations can come from feeling an emotion, but being unsure from where it originated,” explains John. “As hard as it might be, it is important to try and avoid arguing and remind yourself that their anger stems from a frustration they cannot control.”

5. Difficulty with new environments

Elderly woman looking distressed (Thinkstock/PA)
A change in routine can make things difficult

Routine is key for people living with dementia, and any sudden changes in routine can leave them feeling agitated and uncomfortable. “Christmas can be a challenging time of year for those living with dementia, as they are often in an unfamiliar home, surrounded by people who aren’t part of their daily routine,” says John. “This can be overwhelming.”

6. Loss of subtleties of language

Another early sign of dementia is a change in the way the person communicates. “Linked to a change in memory, those who have dementia can have issues with talking, often getting lost in conversations, or struggling to recall the right words when discussing an idea.”
For anyone who is unsure about dementia symptoms, or simply needs support during this Christmas season, you can call the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 which is operated by specialist dementia nurses. For more information, visit

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