Dementia symptoms: Red flag sign could be mistaken for Covid

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Dementia is a syndrome, or a group of related symptoms, associated with the ongoing decline of cognitive ability.

Well-known warning signs of dementia therefore include issues such as memory loss and behavioural changes.

However, there are a number of symptoms of dementia that might not be so well known, meaning a diagnosis could be missed.

Two experts spoke with about a specific symptom that could initially be mistaken for a sign of COVID-19.

According to Doctor William Wong, a consultant GP at Fitzrovia Medical Clinic, and Janet Shreeve, from Shreeve Care Services, a change in taste could signal dementia.

This can result in people losing their appetite or wanting to eat different foods, and could be misconstrued as a loss or altered taste experienced by Covid patients.

Dr Wong said: “Dementia can cause a change in the way we register taste because brain changes can alter an individual’s ability to process flavours in a more regulated manner.

“There’s also a chance that medications taken for Alzheimer’s can cause certain side effects, including changing the way that someone might taste food.

“You may also notice that someone with dementia has gained a preference for new foods or is turning away foods that they once enjoyed.

“This is all a common part of having a taste change, but it is particularly important to take note of any noticeable decline or rise in appetite as it is vital that they gain a good amount of nutrition.”

Ms Shreeve listed a “strange” taste in the mouth and not eating regularly as two lesser-known signs of dementia.

She urged people to help the affected person seek help as soon as possible.

“Encourage them to seek help sooner rather than later,” she said.

“Quite often people will realise that they are forgetting things and are embarrassed.

“The sooner that a medical appointment can be obtained the better and the patient is more likely to feel that they still have some control.”

Dr Wong agreed. “If you notice that someone with dementia has changed their eating habits, I recommend speaking to their doctor who can then refer you to further professionals if necessary,” he said.

“This is particularly important as a change in food preferences and appetite can hold a potential for negative side-effects including a loss of appetite, dehydration, and nutritional deficiencies.

“You can support someone experiencing dementia in their change of taste by offering new foods that match their new preferences.

“This can mean changing up the menu by introducing new flavours and offering new textures that will suit their new preferences.

“I also suggest keeping an eye out for potential dehydration, where a healthcare professional will be able to advise further should this be the case.”

According to the NHS, early signs of dementia can include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Finding it hard to carry out familiar daily tasks, such as getting confused over the correct change when shopping
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or find the right word
  • Being confused about time and place
  • Mood changes.

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