Christmas is the most common time of the year for noticing signs of dementia in relatives, according to new research.
Experts say that the festive period is when people spend a lot of time together with family or friends whom they haven’t seen for a while, and they are more likely to notice changes that could be signs of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society Helpline received 60 per cent more calls than usual last Christmas from people seeking advice and support after the festive season, many of whom are worried about what could be signs of dementia.
January is the busiest month with calls 17 per cent above the average month. Website traffic also rose by almost 30 per cent.
Now the charity is warning that there needs to be greater understanding about the signs that could indicate dementia.
A survey of more than 4,200 people for the Alzheimer’s Society shows that many people are confused over what could be a sign of dementia and what is more likely to be general absent-mindedness.
Many did recognise that repeatedly forgetting names of family members and everyday objects could be a sign of dementia (72 per cent). But nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) also thought putting everyday objects in the wrong place could mean someone has dementia.
Experts say absent-minded mistakes are relatively common but when a person shows confusion around the order in which day to day tasks are carried out, such as the order in which you make a cup of tea, this could indicate a sign of dementia.
The survey also found that people are reluctant to speak to a loved one about their concerns, with only a third (38 per cent) saying that they would feel confident starting a conversation about dementia with someone they were concerned about.
A separate survey of people affected by dementia showed that, worryingly, more than half (56 per cent) waited at least six to 12 months after noticing dementia symptoms before seeking help, and 30 per cent waited over a year or more.
Many people thought that forgetting why you have walked into a room (39 per cent) might be a sign, which could happen to anyone.
Only 39 per cent felt compulsive or repetitive behaviour could be a sign of dementia. However, a change in behaviour showing repetitive, compulsive or ritualised behaviours, which can include repeated use of phrases or gestures, or repeatedly asking the same question, can be a sign of dementia.
And only a third (33 per cent) were aware that mispronouncing words or stuttering could be a sign.
Half (50 per cent) recognised that losing interest in things you once enjoyed and were good at could be a warning sign.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know dementia is the most feared illness for many, and there’s no question that it can have a devastating impact on people, their family and friends.
“It’s important we tackle confusion around what are and aren’t signs of dementia, and help give people confidence in approaching loved ones about their concerns so people don’t delay getting help.
“Dementia can strip you of connections to the people you love, but we have many services that can help stop that and support you.”
Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador, Sir Tony Robinson, of Blackadder and Time Team fame, said: “The first sign of dementia I recall dad having was when he got very upset because he wanted the handles of all the tea cups in the house facing north-northeast.
“My mum got upset because she had no idea what north-northeast was.
“I was unable to cope and approached the whole issue with terror and confusion, but that was over 20 years ago and no-one I knew was any more clued up about dementia than I was.”
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