An Early Warning Sign of Dementia that Surfaces 9 Years Before Memory Changes

Posted on April 14, 2017

Photo: flickr

While we associate dementia with gradual and often irreversible memory loss, a new study sheds light on a subtle warning sign of dementia that arises approximately nine years before the most obvious symptom of dementia – memory loss – surfaces. A shift in sense of humour can sound insignificant, but the importance of this subtle behavioural change can be seen in this trend: the friends and relatives of people who have been diagnosed with dementia have often reported changes in them around nine years before the memory problems arise. This is because our sense of humour is a part of us, and is highly involved in our relationships with others. A change in sense of humour from, for instance, satirical comedy such as Monty Python to slapstick humour like Mr Bean can mean a lot more than just a change in entertainment or television preferences.

It is perhaps most important for us to acknowledge that dementia is a lot more than just memory loss. While that is the most obvious sign of dementia, personality and behavioural changes are important signs to take note of as well. These subtle changes can have long term implications for diagnostic processes, as doctors themselves have to be aware of these earlier indicators of dementia. In fact, humour could be an especially sensitive method of detecting dementia, as it provides ideas as to the underlying neurological changes that occur in patients with dementia, and affects many different parts of brain function, including and not limited to emotions, social awareness and problem solving.

Of the 48 friends and relatives of dementia patients who were surveyed, the most glaring findings were probably those for patients with frontotemporal dementia, a type of dementia that the most common in people under the age of 55. It was noted by their loved ones that those who have been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia started laughing in inappropriate situations many years before they were given formal diagnoses. For instance, they would laugh when others get hurt, or even when there is nothing humorous about the situation, such as hearing a dog bark. It is important to note that dementia patients who later developed Alzheimer’s did not laugh in this way.

As more research is being done with regard to the group of neurodegenerative diseases collectively known as dementia, it is clear that dementia is a lot more complex than just memory loss. Hence, such a study will be highly useful in helping us differentiate between different types of dementia, and to have a more informed and complete understanding of the various physiological and behavioural changes that occur at different stages of the disease, perhaps allowing us to diagnose patients at an earlier stage of the disease. This will then allow doctors to streamline treatment procedures and to identify suitable test subjects to test new interventions that cater to specific types of dementia.


Source material from PsyBlog

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