According to a report from TIME magazine, roughly 9% of Americans 65 and older have some form of dementia.
Dementia is a broad categorization for symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning, or other thinking skills, which are severe enough to impair a person’s ability to live their everyday life. It is not interchangeable with Alzheimer’s disease, although Alzheimer’s is one of the most common forms of dementia, responsible for about two-thirds of diagnoses.
One incredibly important thing to keep in mind – especially as you act as a caregiver for your aging family members? As the National Institute on Aging puts it, dementia is “not a normal part of aging.”
What does this mean? Well, as we get older, certain types of cognitive decline are to be expected. As Dr. Jason Karlawish explains for AARP, “after about age 50, everyone has trouble occasionally finding words and experiences lapses in memory.”
Certain mental and physical changes are a natural part of the aging process; dementia is the result of one or more diseases which cause these changes to be even more acute, making it harder for people to carry out the activities of daily life.
The question, then, may be this: When is it time to seek help for your loved one who may be experiencing some of the warning signs of dementia?
In order to help, you may want to know what signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for. While people will experience many different symptoms, to different levels of severity, there are a few key areas to focus on as you keep an eye on your aging relatives:
- Language and communication
- Reasoning and judgment
- Thinking and focus
In practice, here are a few signs to watch out for:
1.) Memory Loss That Affects Quality of Life
While it is natural to occasionally forget names and details, and remember them later, dementia typically brings about issues with memory that disrupt your loved one’s daily life. Be on the lookout and take note if your loved one:
- Has trouble retaining short term memories/new information
- Forgets important dates or events
- Repeats information or statements multiple times
- Relies very heavily on memory aids (notes, calendars, family reminders), instead of keeping track for themselves
2.) Difficulty Completing Everyday Tasks
People with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often find it hard to keep up with activities of daily living (ADLs), housekeeping, and other responsibilities. This may lead to issues with:
- Driving to familiar locations
- Remembering their schedule, or the rules to a game
- Tracking a budget, or paying bills
- Remembering to cook or clean
- Increased clumsiness, falls, or mishaps
- Inability to keep up with simple math or logistics
3.) Confusion With Time and Place
In some cases, older adults may get confused about remembering the day of the week, only to remember it shortly thereafter. While the occasional slip may not be cause for alarm, pay attention to see if your loved one is consistently confused about the time, or where they are. Pay attention for:
- Losing track of passage of time, including misremembering dates and losing track of seasons
- Forgetting where they are, or how they got somewhere
- Mixing up past, present, and future events
- Missing appointments, or showing up too early
4.) Confusion With Visual Images and Spatial Relationships
One sign of dementia that often goes overlooked? For some people, having vision troubles can be a warning sign for any number of conditions. Take note if your loved one is experiencing:
- Vision problems
- New issues with reading, writing, driving
- Difficulty judging distance and color contrast
- Confusion, physical clumsiness
- Shirking ADLs (such as cooking, answering mail, etc.), because of poor vision
5.) Misplacing and Losing Things
Again, many people misplace things from time to time. But for those with dementia, forgetting and misplacing things is a common occurrence. Has your loved one developed a tendency to…
- Put things in unusual places (such as leaving the car keys in the freezer, for example)
- Find themselves unable to retrace their steps, or remember where they left something
- Experience paranoia, and accuse family members or others of stealing or hiding items
6.) Problems With Speaking, Writing, and Communicating
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can alter how adults create, understand, and process language, which can manifest in writing, or in daily conversation. Take note if your loved one routinely:
- Struggles to express their thoughts
- Has trouble recalling specific words or phrases
- Creates their own words, or uses placeholders
- Loses the thread of a conversation midway through
- Frequently repeats themselves
7.) Problems With Judgment and Decision Making
Dementia can affect someone’s ability to think rationally and make reasoned decisions. Many family members of dementia patients have noticed that their loved ones experience:
- Poor judgment when dealing with money
- Changes in decision making abilities, rationality
- An increased tendency to take risky decisions (which could mean reckless spending, dressing inappropriately, being trusting of obvious scams, and so on)
8.) Social Withdrawal
One “yellow flag” to watch out for: Take note if your loved one is withdrawing from activities and social engagements that they once enjoyed. This may take the form of:
- Distancing themselves from work projects, volunteer opportunities, religious organizations, hobbies, sports, and so on
- Avoiding being social
- Failing to make appointments or show up to events on time
- Isolating themselves from friends and family
9.) Changes in Personality, Mood, and Behavior
People with dementia might experience noticeable changes to their personality, mood, and behaviors. Take note if your loved one is:
- Experiencing a noticeable personality change – from shy to outgoing or vice versa, for example
- Displaying sudden mood swings
- Feeling extreme emotions – fear, suspicion, anxiety, depression
- Easily upset or frustrated at home, or in social situations with friends and family
- Struggling to adapt to changes, or situations where they feel out of their comfort zone
10.) Changes in Grooming and Hygiene Habits
Has your loved one seemed to have given up on their personal care and hygiene? In some cases, an abrupt or gradual decline in grooming and personal hygiene may be an early warning sign of dementia. You may wish to watch for:
- Increased feelings of apathy and listlessness
- Failure to give attention to routine personal care, such as brushing teeth, changing clothes, or bathing
- Allowing clutter and dirt to develop around house, lawn to overgrow, pet to go ungroomed, etc.
When It’s Time to Seek Help
If you notice that your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms over time, and does not seem to be improving, you may wish to consult with a doctor to get to the root of the matter.
Seeing a medical professional may allow you to fully assess your loved one’s mental and physical wellbeing. A doctor may determine if the underlying cause of your loved one’s difficulties stem from dementia, and can help assess the severity of the condition. Or, a medical professional may be able to determine if some other factor is to blame, such as a physical ailment, or perhaps reactions to a medication.
Equipped with this information, your family can move more confidently into the future and seek a course of action. There are numerous courses of treatment available to help those with dementia manage their symptoms and maintain their mental functionality, including cognitive training, different types of therapy, and medication.
In many cases, your aging loved one may also benefit from the personalized attention and care that an in-home caregiver can provide. In-home care is typically less expensive than institutionalized care, and allows your loved one to age in the comfort and security of their own home.
To discuss your options, don’t hesitate to reach out to Companions for Seniors! We’d be happy to hear you out, and help you determine the course of action that will best suit your family’s needs.
About Companions for Seniors
If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of the professionals at Companions for Seniors.
We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs, and we’re here to field any questions you may have about any aspect of caring for your aging loved one.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the burden of caring for the senior in your life. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, and our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call, or fill out our contact form available here.