What Are the Signs of Dementia?
Recognizing the signs of dementia
What to watch for when someone you love may have dementia
Maybe it started out small with misplacing common items or occasional, uncharacteristic confusion, but now you’re noticing it more and more — your loved one is simply not as sharp as they used to be. While they’re still the same person you’ve always loved and cared about, some changes in behavior may cause you to wonder: Are these signs of dementia?
It’s important to keep in mind that memory loss is a common symptom of aging and isn’t always a symptom of dementia. However, if memory loss is accompanied by difficulty performing familiar tasks, or difficulty speaking, your loved one may be exhibiting early signs of dementia. While dementia symptoms can vary from person to person, it’s important to recognize them early so your loved one can take advantage of treatment or therapy options.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a single disease but, rather, a term used to characterize a number of diseases that affect cognitive and psychological functions, such as memory, reasoning or thinking, and social abilities. The symptoms of dementia are usually progressive, affecting various parts of the body in addition to damaging brain cells. While there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of progressive dementia in older adults, affecting an estimated 5.8 million American adults over age 65.
While a decline in cognitive ability is caused by physical changes in the brain, it manifests in changes in thinking, rationale and perception that can make daily functioning difficult. While memory problems such as losing keys or misplacing a pocketbook are common as we age, people with dementia will struggle to retrace their steps in order to find what they’re missing. Problem-solving and handling basic tasks become increasingly difficult, and planning or organizing skills decrease. People with dementia may also struggle with finding words when speaking, making communication difficult and frustrating. Problems with coordination and orientation are also common, and the combination of dementia’s effects on all these abilities can hinder movement and independence, and lead to social isolation.
Psychological changes can vary, but you’ll likely notice subtle or not-so-subtle differences in your loved one’s personality or behavior that may include:
- Inappropriate behavior
- Loss of interest in activities
- Poor judgment
Knowing what to watch for
Not all symptoms will show up in the early stages of dementia; each individual will experience their own unique pattern of onset. If you suspect your loved one may be exhibiting the early signs of dementia, consult a doctor who can answer your questions and provide an assessment and diagnosis. The following list of symptoms from the Alzheimer’s Association can help as you observe changes in your loved one and then communicate those changes to their doctor.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
What to do after a diagnosis of dementia
If your loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it’s important to plan for treatment and future needs. You may already be wondering whether it’s safe for them to remain in their home, and what options are available to help as their needs change.
Dementia care — usually called memory care or memory support — at a Life Plan Community can provide an environment that will help your loved one thrive and live to their highest potential through every stage.
In addition to specially designed memory care residences, specialized programs like the one at Freedom Square take advantage of the latest research and advances in dementia care to create an environment that reduces fear, anxiety and frustration, so people with dementia can feel safe and secure. Through person-centered care, each resident has daily opportunities to participate in the activities that promote feelings of belonging, purpose and accomplishment, as well as their sense of dignity, self-worth and self-esteem.
Specialized memory care also provides important benefits to family members. If you’ve been your loved one’s caregiver, you’ll have the opportunity to return to your role as a loving spouse, child or grandchild, while also knowing that your loved one is enjoying the best quality of life possible. This can go a long way toward alleviating feelings of guilt and allow you to make the most of your time together.