It’s not easy to notice changes in yourself. You might think any change is just normal ageing, or the change is infrequent and not worth bothering about.

These changes in your brain can make it harder for you to notice them. Your brain is what you think with, so if it’s changing, so is the way you think.

So, how do you know if you – or a loved one – may be developing dementia?

Dementia Australia state there are two things you can do to pick up changes early:

  • Treat small signs as if they’re bigger. If it really is small, there’s no harm in getting checked. If it’s more serious, you were right to find out.
  • Listen to what other people notice about you. If someone close to you says they see a change, trust them. It might be easier for them to see than you.

Memory loss

It could be an early warning sign if you are:

  • more often forgetting things you used to easily remember, like names and numbers;
  • struggling to remember new things;
  • becoming more repetitive, like asking the same question many times;

Trouble doing familiar tasks

It’s an early warning sign if you are:

  • having trouble following the steps in preparing a meal;
  • wondering if you already did something;
  • getting lost in the middle of a task, like housework; and
  • having trouble paying bills or remembering your PIN number.

Confusion about time and place

It could be an early warning sign if you are:

  • having trouble finding your way to familiar places;
  • sometimes being unsure how to get home; and
  • getting confused about what time or day it is.

Problems with language

It could be an early warning sign if you start to:

  • forget simple words
  • use the wrong word
  • struggle to understand written words or what people are saying.

Problems with abstract thinking

It could be an early warning sign if you’re having more than usual trouble with:

  • directions, like ‘north’ and ‘east’
  • the flow of time, like ‘before’ and ‘after’, ‘yesterday’ or ‘tomorrow’
  • understanding numbers and what to do with them.

Trouble with distance and location

It could be an early warning sign if you have more problems than usual with:

  • judging distance or direction when driving;
  • reaching out for something but missing; and
  • putting things down in risky places, like the very edge of a table.

Problems misplacing things

It could be an early warning sign if you have more than usual trouble with:

  • misplacing everyday objects;
  • putting things in the wrong place, like your wallet in the fridge or food in the drawer; and
  • retracing your steps.

Changes in personality or behaviour

It could be an early warning sign if you:

  • start having sudden mood swings, like going from calm to angry, for no apparent reason
  • become unusually confused, suspicious or withdrawn
  • start acting less inhibited or more familiar with people.

A loss of initiative

It could be an early warning sign if you grow less and less motivated over time, like:

  • neglecting your housework or personal hygiene;
  • putting in less effort at work;
  • socialising less with friends and family; and
  • needing prompting to get involved in things you’d normally enjoy.

Don’t panic but act

If you have noticed some early warning signs in yourself, or someone else has noticed them, talk to your doctor. They can help you work out what’s going on and what to do next.

The sooner you know, the more you can do.

These early signs could mean a lot of things, not just dementia. If it’s some other medical condition, your doctor can arrange tests, tell you what it is and start treating it early.

Even if your doctor books you in for testing for dementia-like symptoms, the earlier you find out, the better your options for treating and managing your condition.

For more information, advice and support about early warning signs, you can contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 any time, day or night.