One in six people over the age of 80 have dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. While that doesn’t mean dementia will affect everyone as they grow older, it does mean you should be proactive and keep an eye out for signs of dementia.
Dementia is not a disease but a group of symptoms related to memory loss. If you’re worried that it may be affecting your parent, look over these seven early signs of dementia to see if your loved one is displaying dementia symptoms.
Could it just be memory loss? Use this chart to distinguish between normal memory loss and dementia symptoms.
We all struggle sometimes when we’re learning new things. But one of the early signs of dementia is struggling with simple, daily tasks. Someone who is just beginning to develop dementia might not remember how to turn on the coffee bean grinder they’ve had for years or forget how to turn on the washer.
Another symptom of dementia is confusion about what time it is or being unable to account for time. If you asked someone in the early stages of dementia what they did all day, they might get a fuzzy look and try to cover their memory loss with a vague answer.
This can even apply to seasons and days of the week. Someone suffering from dementia might grab a sweater in the middle of the summer thinking it’s winter or forget what day of the week it is. But be careful that you don’t mistake common memory slip-ups for dementia. It’s perfectly normal to forget an appointment every now and then.
We’ve all lost our keys in the couch (or, more embarrassingly, our own coat pocket). But if your spouse or parent is routinely losing things, it might be a sign of dementia.
Why? Because they have blank patches in their mental record of the day. They can’t retrace their steps because they don’t remember them.
If it happens once or twice, misplacing common objects shouldn’t raise concerns. But if it’s happening frequently, it might be an early dementia sign.
Now, this doesn’t mean struggling with a difficult crossword or balancing the checkbook. It means running into difficulties with smaller, more routine problems like navigating to a new location in an area they used to know well. Someone with dementia has trouble keeping things straight, so their ability to plan decreases.
Research has shown that staying mentally active can help preserve brain cells and connections. As a preventative measure, keep your mind stimulated with these six tips to increase your intellectual wellness.
Another early warning sign of dementia is abruptly losing interest in hobbies or social events. It’s easy to understand why someone with dementia might not enjoy their old favorites anymore. Their favorite game may now confuse them, so they might decide to avoid it. They might have difficulty following the thread of conversation in a large group of friends and decide to disengage themselves to avoid embarrassment.
Try to understand what’s at the root of their disinterest. This can also be a sign of depression, so make sure to rule that out first. If that can safely be dismissed, it might be a sign of dementia.
Difficulty with language is another symptom of dementia. Now, this is different from searching for a word in the middle of a sentence, one that’s just at the tip of your tongue. Language problems in a dementia sufferer are more severe.
They might repeatedly struggle for the right word but are never able to remember it. Or they might replace a word they can’t think of with another word. For example, they might use descriptive words like “window cover” when they’re trying to say “curtain” or related words like “flower” instead of “tree.”
Finally, be on the lookout for changes in personality or frequent mood swings. Any dramatic change in behavior is a sign that’s something wrong and dementia is often the culprit in older adults.
Alzheimers.org has a very helpful list of behavioral changes to be on the lookout for, including restlessness, accusatory behavior, hoarding, and night-time wandering.
Overall, you’re looking for instances of memory loss that disrupt daily life. Don’t panic if your parent doesn’t remember that you had plans to get lunch at noon or if they were late because they couldn’t find their keys. Everybody forgets things now and again.
But you should be on the lookout for repeat incidents. If they’re confused about the date more often or not, or if they can’t remember the punchline of their favorite joke that they’ve told at every Christmas party for the last 20 years, it might be dementia.
If your loved one is showing signs of dementia or if it’s something you’re worried will become an issue in the future, it might be time to start looking at solutions. After talking to your family doctor, you should start working on a long-term plan.
A great option for dementia care is a Life Plan Community. In a Life Plan Community, your parent can go from independent living to assisted living, then on to skilled nursing, all in one familiar place, as their needs change.
It’s best to ensure that a long-term care plan is in place because it’s overwhelming for family members to be caretakers. As much as you might want to, it’s just too big of a load. For your peace of mind and their health, it’s better to leave it to a professional, caring healthcare team that’s equipped to give the highest quality of care.