What are early signs of dementia?

male family members

Facing the changes in your parent as they age can be hard.  Denial can be very powerful and may cause you to avoid the truth.   But you need to listen to those alarm bells in your head if you are having concerns about your parent’s health or memory.  Denial won’t fix or change the health of your parent and pushing away those feelings can lead to further decline.   If you are worried that your parent may be showing symptoms of dementia, we can help you identify some of the early signs.  And if you are concerned about their well-being or safety, we strongly suggest consulting with their primary physician and your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association for more help.

First, what is dementia and what are causes?

Dementia is a term that refers to mental decline and a person’s ability to manage their daily life and complete everyday tasks. It is not one specific disease but rather an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in cognitive ability.  The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s. Often occurring after a stroke, the second most common type is vascular dementia.  Other common dementias are: Lewy Body and Frontotemporal.

Dementia occurs when there is damage to the nerve cells in the brain.  The reasons and symptoms may vary depending on the cause. Some diseases have been known to cause dementia: Parkinson’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Wenicke-Korsakoff to name a few. Medical conditions can also cause dementia-like symptoms, including depression, Vitamin B12 deficiency, hydrocephalus (water on the brain), tumors, Thyroid disease, and alcoholism.Drug interactions have also been known to cause dementia-type symptoms. As our parents age and take more medications, they can be vulnerable to the adverse effects of drug interactions.  Even commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications can cause issues, like antihistamines, sedatives, and antidepressants.  Therefore, it is important to monitor and note your parent’s behavior over an extended period.  Make an appointment with their physician to share the signs and symptoms that you have noticed.

Here are some common, early signs to look for in your parent:

  1. Change in personality or behaviors. A New York Times article outlines that the earliest sign of dementia may first be noticed in their personality and behavioral changes.  Their mood may quickly change as they experience feelings of confusion, suspicion, fearfulness, or anxiety.  Does your parent get easily upset when taken out of their comfort zone?  If your parent has always taken pride in their appearance then suddenly pays less attention to their personal hygiene, cleanliness, or clothing, this may be a concern.  When your parent’s personality changes and they are making decisions or acting in ways that are not typical, then you should take note.
  2. Memory problems. Memory loss is the most commonly associated symptom of dementia, primarily when trying to recall recent events or forgetting recently learned information. Other symptoms include not remembering important dates, events, or appointments; repeatedly asking the same question; relying heavily on memory aids like reminder notes or electronic devices; or being dependent on family members for tasks that could be handled on their own. People living with dementia often have a difficult time joining a conversation due to memory loss.  They are embarrassed or frustrated when they are unable to find the right words or call items by the wrong name.  They often struggle tracking a conversation or repeat themselves frequently.
  3. Increased confusion. People with dementia find it tough to track time, and that can include dates, seasons, or even the passage of time like what year it is. They often can’t understand future events or planning if it is not happening immediately.  Seniors who experience symptoms of dementia can forget where they are or how they got there, which can be terrifying.  Confusion can also impact poor decision-making and judgment. For example, they may easily fall for an online scam or donate a large amount of money to a telemarketer.
  4. Reduced ability to concentrate. Often you will find that people with dementia have a tough time concentrating and find it takes longer to do tasks that they have easily done before.  Some seniors with dementia find it difficult to create and follow a plan.  They may have difficulty working with numbers, managing a budget, or tracking their monthly bills. They may no longer be able to follow a familiar recipe or recall ingredients in their favorite dish.  They may be easily distracted and place items in unusual places throughout the house.  They may lose items frequently and are unable to retrace their steps. And many times, they will accuse others of stealing from them.
  5. Withdrawal, depression, or apathy. Seniors with dementia may avoid social situations due to the changes in their behavior because they may be embarrassed or frustrated. They often will remove themselves from events, hobbies, work projects, book clubs, or sports because they don’t feel like they can participate. They have trouble remembering how to complete a project like knitting or keep up with the rules of playing bridge.
  6. Unable to handle daily tasks. You may notice your loved one can no longer complete simple  Perhaps they can no longer balance their checkbook, get lost when driving to church, or don’t enjoy watching their beloved baseball because they forget the rules.  If their forgetfulness makes it challenging to manage or handle daily tasks, this can be a significant sign that something may not be okay.

Not all of these symptoms mean that your parent or spouse has dementia.  For example, if they are dehydrated, they can show signs of dementia that can clear up when fully hydrated.  Or perhaps they are experiencing a bad drug interaction.  If you suspect that your parent is having symptoms that are sustained over several months, you will want to set up an appointment with their physician to have them examined.

At Aegis Living, our communities are equipped to handle the unique mental and physical limitations associated with dementia.  If you have specific questions or need assistance caring for a loved one with dementia please contact us.

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