Forgetfulness and memory problems are normal parts of aging. You don’t need to run to the neurologist the first time your mom forgets an appointment or your dad can’t figure out how to record a television show.
However, if they are experiencing difficulty remembering or impairments language, communication, focus, and reasoning that aren’t improving or that are interfering with everyday life, it’s time to see the doctor.
Here’s a look at 5 early signs symptoms of dementia you should be aware of.
1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life
One of the most common signs of dementia involves trouble with short-term memory. From forgetting recently learned information to asking for the same information over and over, your aging loved one may be able to remember events that took place years ago but not what they had for breakfast.
A person with dementia may forget things more often or not remember them at all.
2. Difficulty Handling Complex Tasks
You might notice a subtle shift in your loved one’s ability to complete normal tasks, such as driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work, or remembering the rules of a favorite game. A more obvious sign is when they start having difficulty handling more complex tasks, such as balancing a checkbook or playing games that have a lot of rules.
A person with dementia can get distracted, and they may forget to serve part of a meal or they may have trouble with all the steps involved in preparing a meal.
3. New Problems with Words in Speaking or Writing
Another common dementia symptom is having difficulty communicating or finding words. Maybe your mom has always been a stellar conversationalist and you notice that now she may have trouble following or joining a conversation. Or perhaps your dad struggles to find the right word or calls things by the wrong name.
A person with dementia may forget simple words or substitute the wrong word, making sentences difficult to understand. They may also have trouble understanding others.
4. Apathy and Withdrawal or Depression
Changes in mood can be an indication that your loved one has dementia. Perhaps they avoid being social because of the changes in their brain that they’re experiencing. They may also have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby, so they may start to withdraw from things they previously enjoyed. Depression is typical in dementia.
Because dementia involves damage of nerve cells in the brain, someone with dementia can experience psychological changes that cause rapid mood swings. They can become confused, suspicious, fearful, or anxious.
5. Increasing Confusion and Disorientation
Someone in the early stages of dementia may often lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. Confusion may arise as they can no longer remember faces, find the right words, or interact with people normally.
The sense of direction and spatial orientation commonly start to deteriorate with the onset of dementia. A person with dementia may have difficulty finding their way to a familiar place or feel confused about where they are or think they are back in some past time of their life.
When to See a Doctor
If your aging loved one exhibits several of these signs, consult a doctor. A general practitioner will typically refer you to a neurologist who can examine your loved one’s physical and mental health to determine whether the symptoms result from dementia or another cognitive problem.
Many conditions have symptoms similar to dementia, so it is important not to assume that someone has dementia just because some of the above symptoms are present. Strokes, depression, excessive long-term alcohol consumption, infections, hormonal disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and brain tumors can all cause dementia-like symptoms. Many of these conditions can be treated.
With early detection, dementia can also be treated, though not cured. With treatment and early diagnosis, you can slow the progression of the disease and maintain mental function. The treatments may include medications, cognitive training, and therapy.
Eventually, dementia will affect your loved one’s memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. A Memory Care Community is a specialized program, usually housed within an assisted living community, that is structured, licensed, and staffed to handle the increased demands of caring for patients with dementia.
How do you know when it is the right time to consider moving your loved one to a specialized memory care community? The answer is not going to be the same for everybody, but there are additional signs you can watch for.
To learn more, download our eBook When Is the Right Time for Memory Care?, a guide for family caregivers on how to know when it’s the right time to consider moving an elderly parent or loved one to a memory care community.