The focus of this paper is on the beginnings of dementia – on the grey area where normal and abnormal ageing seem to overlap, but where a diagnosis can be established. We look at a group of elderly people diagnosed as suffering from mild dementia and at the relatives most closely involved with them and whom we had assumed to be their carers. Our principal interest is in the relatives' perception of the deterioration in intellectual function, and in their awareness of and response to problems associated with it. Contrary to expectation, these relatives did not see themselves as carers, or the elderly person as demented. Spouses often saw their partner as no more disabled than themselves; and, more generally, the relationship between them often showed a high degree of reciprocity. Sons and daughters were usually aware of changes in their parents' behaviour but tended to explain them in terms of normal ageing. Improvement in the process of early identification and the creation of more appropriate services are generally seen as desirable. Questions are raised about the usefulness and justification for intervention in a situation which is not yet recognised by those involved as requiring it.
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