Some Dementia Warning Signs May Appear Years in Advance

By: Nick Leydorf
estate planning and elder law attorney
Meet Nick Leydorf
My practice is dedicated to helping families get their affairs in order so that they can stay out of court and out of conflict. I’ve experienced first-hand how a lack of planning can have a terrible impact on a family. One morning, my wife received a phone call that her mother had been found unconscious in her bathroom and had been rushed to a local hospital. We panicked and drove to Grand Rapids as fast as we could to be with her. For two weeks, she never regained consciousness and she passed away. My wife and I were devastated.
As we grow older, many of us fear the possibility that we could be diagnosed with dementia. Few things are more frightening than the thought of losing our independence to this progressive disease.  Researchers at the University of Cambridge now say signs of dementia may appear up to nine years in advance of when the illness is typically diagnosed.

Seeing these dementia signs early enough might offer the possibility of treating underlying factors at a time when it can make a big difference to your long-term health, says Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “3 Dementia Warning Signs That May Appear Years in Advance.”

In a summary of the research findings, the study’s first author Nol Swaddiwudhipong, a junior doctor at the University of Cambridge, remarked, “This is a step towards us being able to screen people who are at greatest risk — for example, people over 50 or those who have high blood pressure or do not do enough exercise — and intervene at an earlier stage to help them reduce their risk.”

Here are key signs of dementia that may appear almost a decade in advance of symptoms clear enough for a diagnosis.

  1. Poorer scores on certain cognitive tests. The team reviewed data from tests of a half-million participants in the United Kingdom between the ages of 40 and 69. The testing included problem-solving, memory, reaction times and grip strength. Those who did poorly on these types of tests were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia.

In the summary of the research findings, Swaddiwudhipong says, “When we looked back at patients’ histories, it became clear that they were showing some cognitive impairment several years before their symptoms became obvious enough to prompt a diagnosis. The impairments were often subtle, but across a number of aspects of cognition.”

  1. A recent fall. Those who were eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s were more likely than others to have had a fall in the previous 12 months. Patients who developed a rare neurological condition called progressive supranuclear palsy were more than twice as likely as healthy people to have experienced a fall. PSP impacts a person’s balance.
  2. Poorer overall health. Those who were in poor overall health were more likely to develop every type of health condition screened for in the study, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Dr. Tim Rittman from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, says, “People should not be unduly worried if, for example, they are not good at recalling numbers. Even some healthy individuals will naturally score better or worse than their peers. But we would encourage anyone who has any concerns or notices that their memory or recall is getting worse to speak to their [primary doctor].”

Reference: Money Talks News (Dec. 23, 2022) “3 Dementia Warning Signs That May Appear Years in Advance”

Suggested Key Terms: Dementia, Senior Health

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