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West London NHS Trust > Patients and carers > Mental and physical health conditions > Dementia > Symptoms of dementia

Symptoms of dementia

A person with dementia often does not look ill, especially in the early stages, and may have no particular symptoms. But carers and friends may notice a change in personality or problems remembering things.

Spot the signs of dementia

Types of symptoms

Dementia usually progresses slowly. There are three types of symptoms:

  • Cognitive problems that affect understanding and memory.
  • Functional problems that make it difficult to carrying out complex tasks in the early stages, and everyday tasks such as personal hygiene and dressing in the final stages.
  • Emotional problems due to changes in mood, loss of emotional control and a withdrawal from previous interests, activities and social interactions.

The different types of dementia have different symptoms. However, there are usually three distinct stages.

Early stage

A person appears confused, and forgets about things that have just happened. They may not remember where they are, or what they did five minutes ago. Long-term memory is usually not much affected, and a person with dementia often talks about the past.
Concentration and decision-making become difficult, and mood changes are frequent. A previously happy person may become irritable or depressed over small things. Others may notice changes without understanding why.

Second stage

The second stage, known as moderate dementia, brings more obvious confusion, forgetfulness and mood changes. A person may become anxious and aggressive. They may wander restlessly around the house and get up during the night. They may search the streets for a place or person from the past. They may also become suspicious of carers. Personal safety can be an issue, especially for those who smoke or cook. Even simple things like dressing can become difficult. The pressure upon carers is enormous as it becomes increasingly difficult to leave someone with dementia on their own.

Final stage

In the final stages of the illness, a great deal of help is needed. Long-term memory may still be strong, but often a person is unable to recognise those close to them, unable to talk properly, or understand what is said to them. Incontinence is common. During the later stages, most people become increasingly frail and may be confined to a wheelchair and then to bed. This makes them especially vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia.