Jeff and Doreen Attwood

When it comes to identifying the early signs of dementia, Doreen Attwood from Howick knows all too well what to look for; her husband Jeff has been living with vascular dementia for the past 21 years. Doreen first noticed subtle signs.

“He was normally a very tidy and organised person, but I found he would suddenly start leaving his tools out or leaving his slippers at the entrance way.”

Doreen noticed many little things like putting things in the wrong order when making a cup of tea or a bite to eat, and saying goodnight as he went off to work in the morning.

“The day that I finally acted was the day Jeff came home from work shortly after he had left home for the day and said, ‘I’ve gone to work in my slippers’. I looked down and sure enough – there were his slippers on his feet.

Early diagnosis, and the corresponding support that becomes available with a diagnosis, is vital. It can slow the progression of dementia and maximise independence and wellbeing.

As Christmas approaches and families get together, Dementia New Zealand is running its Remember December campaign to encourage Kiwis to learn the signs of dementia.

“We often get a lot of people contacting us in the new year, as people have picked up the signs and symptoms that a loved one may have dementia over the Christmas, family reunion period,” says Dementia New Zealand CEO Paul Sullivan.

“Memory loss might be the most common symptom of dementia – but it’s not the only one,” he says. “To help raise awareness and empower people to identify dementia, we’ve collated eight of the most common symptoms to look for.

“As important as it is to know the signs, it’s equally important to know what not to worry about,” says Paul. “Repeating a story to your spouse because you forgot you had already shared it is a normal part of any relationship – but if your husband repeats the same story ten times in a day, taking him to see your GP is in order. Forgetfulness is a normal part of life – but memory loss isn’t.”

Top eight signs to look for:

  1. Poor short-term memory
  2. Inability to carry out common tasks, such as preparing a meal
  3. Personality changes
  4. Struggling to follow conversations
  5. Becoming depressed or withdrawn
  6. Difficulty with abstract thinking
  7. Poor judgement
  8. Disorientation with time and place

Anyone concerned by the changes in a loved one this Christmas would be encouraged to book a GP visit as the next best step and go online to find out more at


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