If you have noticed someone close to you changing – perhaps they are more forgetful or not quite themselves - alarm bells can start ringing.

After a quick search online or a chat with family members or friends, you may be left thinking there can be only one cause: Alzheimer’s.

But how do you approach a conversation about dementia when it’s such an emotive topic?

“As we get older, we’re all prone to becoming more forgetful, taking longer to remember certain things, getting distracted more easily or struggling to perform several tasks at once,” says head of knowledge at Alzheimer’s Society, Dr Tim Beanland.

“These are common signs of getting older, but there is still a very sharp distinction between normal ageing and dementia.”

Symptoms that may worry you

“Symptoms of dementia gradually get worse over time,” Beanland explains, “and can appear as memory loss, confusion, needing help with everyday tasks, problems with language and understanding, or changes in behaviour.

"Although symptoms typically occur in people aged 65 and over, they can occasionally appear as early as twenty years sooner.”

You may be scared

Seeing these types of changes is understandably worrying – it’s a reminder of the age and health of those around us.

“Noticing what might be dementia symptoms in a loved one can be distressing and confusing, particularly for people who have never dealt with dementia before,” Beanland says.

“Both parties may feel nervous or worried about how to address the topic of potential dementia symptoms, and may not know where to begin.”

Be open

Beanland suggests asking questions like, ‘How are you feeling lately, physically and emotionally?’ Or ‘Do you have any health worries you’d like to talk about?’

It’s important to remember when approaching someone who may be experiencing dementia symptoms to do so gently, calmly and in a reassuring and supportive manner.

“People experiencing dementia symptoms may find it difficult, or take a bit longer, to find the words they wish to say,” notes Beanland. “So, allowing them extra time, or giving them gentle prompts, can help them find the words they’re looking for, without highlighting they’ve forgotten something.”

Do your research

Dementia or Alzheimer’s may not be the only answer.

It’s important to remember there are other conditions that can cause similar symptoms to dementia, such as thyroid problems or urinary tract infections, says Beanland.

“Try to focus on helping the person see their GP, to find out what is causing the problems they are having. It’s also important to understand that, whether you are experiencing dementia symptoms personally or you’re a concerned loved one, you do not have to face dementia alone. There is support out there for you.

“I’d encourage anyone worried about their own or a loved one’s memory to use Alzheimer’s Society’s symptoms checklist. It will help to unlock the vital care and support you need, and give you the precious time needed with your family to plan for the future.”