Today, we’ll revisit an important topic that we get asked about often. Many people notice problems with an aging parent’s memory and wonder whether it could be dementia. They’re often unsure what is normal for an aging person (and if there’s something wrong, is it dementia or Alzheimer’s–what’s the difference?). To understand more about the terminology, you might also want to read our Understanding Memory Loss in Old Age article.
Top Ten Dementia Warning Signs
- Memory gaps, especially short term memory. Does Dad repeat the same questions or stories over and over? Does Mom forget what you just told her? Occasionally forgetting an appointment does not necessarily indicate a problem, but this type of pattern and change is a strong sign that something might be wrong.
- Disorientation. The person with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may become confused about whether it is morning or afternoon and may get lost on familiar routes. On the other hand, it is not unusual for someone not to be aware of the day or date on occasion, especially a retired person who may have less routine need for that information.
- Difficulty performing everyday tasks. Someone with dementia may not be able to follow the steps necessary to perform tasks like personal care and household maintenance. This is especially true for things that require planning or multiple steps and you may notice a decline in personal hygiene and household upkeep. You may notice that your aging parent has stopped shopping or cooking.
- Misplacing things frequently. We all occasionally forget where we put something, but this increasingly becomes a problem for the person with Alzheimer’s. They may put things in very unusual spots and even forget the use of common items.
- Poor judgment. Early signs often come in the form of finding out your aging parent has been scammed or is making poor decisions about safety and well-being. Of course, everyone has the right to make poor decisions occasionally, but dementia’s effects on higher level thinking rob the person of their normal judgment and decision-making process.
- Language difficulties. People with Alzheimer’s disease often have trouble “finding” common words or substitute incorrect words. Those in the early stages may try to cover this up and spouses may also help compensate by speaking on behalf of the person (another possible sign something may be wrong).
- Mood swings and behavioral changes. You may find that the person angers easily or is withdrawn or prone to crying spells. Typically, you will notice that this behavior is not characteristic of the person’s lifelong patterns. Some of this may be related to actual changes in the brain, while other behaviors may be an expression of the fear and anxiety the person feels due to the symptoms they’re experiencing.
- Changes in personality. Often, the person with dementia becomes more withdrawn than usual or develops anxiety or paranoia. A person who previously was somewhat independent may become extremely dependent or quiet.
- Problems with complex thinking. You may not realize how much abstract thinking goes into our everyday lives, until you see the person with dementia struggling with this. Handling numbers and finances can be especially difficult and abstract reasoning impacts judgment, as mentioned before.
- Loss of initiative and withdrawal from normal activities. The person may find it difficult to initiate plans and may withdraw from favorite activities. The main activity often becomes sitting in front of the TV or excess sleeping. Often, just making and following through on plans becomes difficult but the person may also withdraw out of embarrassment about their decreasing abilities.
So, what should you do if you notice these signs? First, we want you to know that we welcome your calls or emails to discuss what you are seeing and possibly set up a care management assessment. Aging Wisely occasionally hosts the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Mobile, which offers free dementia screenings and your medical professional can perform one of these as well. Then, a comprehensive workup will be important to determine the most accurate diagnosis and rule out reversible causes. Our team can help with this process, as well as planning what to do from there and setting up in-home help with our dementia-trained caregivers.
Don’t face this alone! Click here to contact Aging Wisely’s eldercare experts (or call 727-447-5845) for help today!