Published on: July 25, 2016
by Ben Spencer for IOL:
Personality changes often put down to the menopause or a mid-life crisis could be early warning signs of dementia, experts warn.
In a bid to help doctors who could be misdiagnosing patients, scientists have coined the term mild behavioural impairment and have drawn up a checklist of warning signs.
Red flags include depression, anxiety, apathy, impulsiveness, agitation, and being socially inappropriate.
Unveiling their work yesterday, the scientists said that if any of these signs lasts for six months, it might herald the onset of dementia.
Some forms of the illness spark unexpected changes in mood and behaviour as early as middle age.
Menopause can cause mood swings, depression and anxiety, so it is easy to see how doctors might misdiagnose patients who actually have early-onset dementia.
Experts at the University of Calgary in Canada unveiled their checklist at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto yesterday.
They drew up the list of red flags after tracking 282 people with cognitive impairment – often the early stage of dementia. They found that 82 per cent of the patients, who had an average age of 60, had shown some form of behaviour change.
Mood swings had affected 78 per cent, impulse control 65 per cent, apathy 52 per cent, social inappropriateness 28 per cent and psychosis 9 per cent.
Jonathan Rohrer, a dementia specialist at University College London, warned earlier this year that behavioural change is a particular red flag for fronto-temporal dementia. Dr Rohrer said: ‘People become more irritable, saying rude things that are socially unacceptable, because one of the symptoms is loss of empathy towards loved ones.
‘GPs say, “It’s just mid-life” or “You’re not getting on any more.”
Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘The first signs of dementia are often picked up by close family and friends as changes in behaviour and personality and may be more noticeable than subtle alterations in memory.
‘Early symptoms of dementia are often missed, and because behavioural changes can be common in mid-life they can often put down to mid-life crisis, depression or the worried well.
‘However, changes in behaviour in mid-life is not uncommon and doesn’t always mean dementia.’
A stimulating job and an active social life can protect the brain from the negative impact of eating unhealthy food, the Alzheimer’s Association conference heard.
Other findings presented yesterday suggest that working with people, rather than computers or physical things, provides better protection against Alzheimer’s.
Scientists said high degrees of ‘cognitive reserve’ – or many connections between brain cells – was a ‘superpower’ over dementia.
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