Dementia: Behavioural changes may be ‘the first sign’ – seen in up to 90% of patients


Dementia is an ongoing medical challenge. Levelling up diagnosis, however, could reduce the burden of the disease as it opens the door to timely treatment. In the minds of many, symptoms of dementia relate primarily to memory loss. Behavioural shifts are sometimes the first sign someone has the disease, however.

Dementia is a catchall term that describes a pattern of mental decline triggered by several different diseases or conditions.

Although medical advances have significantly improved the life quality of sufferers, researchers have yet to find a way to offset the disease.

The public, however, is widely encouraged to look out for warning signs as this could lead to a timely diagnosis and treatment.

In an early 2003 report published in the journal of Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, researchers noted that psychological symptoms and behavioural abnormalities were commonplace with dementia.

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Symptoms could include depression, agitation, aggression, disinhibition and sleep disturbances, and occurred in approximately 30 to 90 percent of dementia patients, the report stated.

The Australian Better Health website explains: “Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time [but] some people with dementia can have rapid mood swings for no apparent reason.

“They can become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Some can become disinhibited or more outgoing.”

The Alzheimer’s Organisation adds that these changes are sometimes the first sign that someone has dementia.


“For some people, they can come on gradually and can be hard to recognise at first. For others, the changes can be more sudden,” notes the health body.

They are likely to intensify as the disease progresses, and may become increasingly difficult to manage.

In dementia, behavioural changes are an indication that a person is losing neurones in parts of the brain.

This means that personality traits will differ greatly depending on which part of the brain is losing cells.

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Changes in personality often inform family members’ decision to seek out medical help, as they’re more likely to notice behavioural changes first.

“Dementia is not a natural part of ageing. This is why it’s important to talk to a GP sooner rather than later if you’re working about memory problems or other symptoms,” says the NHS.

The health body adds that mood changes are “common early symptoms that may appear sometime before a diagnosis of dementia”.

According to the health body, other signs that may emerge at this stage are:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling to follow a conversation
  • Being confused about the time and place
  • Memory loss.

It specifies that becoming withdrawn and anxious are more likely to be signs of Alzheimer’s disease, whereas depression is more commonly seen in vascular dementia.

This is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s, but some people have a combination of both diseases, called “mixed dementia”.

There is no certainty to prevent either disease, mainly because researchers are still unsure what causes them.

There is, however, evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk of dementia when you’re older.


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