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How to Identify the Signs of Dementia in a Loved One

Dementia is an age-related condition where one's cognitive functioning becomes so impaired that it interferes with activities of daily living. Emotional changes often accompany these changes in cognition, and people's personalities may change. These changes can be startling and difficult to deal with, both for the person with dementia and their loved ones.

That said, there are ways to identify dementia early. We know to look for stereotypical signs of dementia like memory loss, but what other signs of dementia should we watch for?

Common Signs of Dementia

Difficulty with Daily Tasks

caretaker helping older woman walk through parkDifficulty completing daily tasks can be a sign of dementia. However, it is important to also consider other age-related conditions. For example, can Dad see the controls on the dishwasher? Is Mom's arthritis acting up? If there are no other apparent causes for difficulties with daily tasks, it may be a sign of dementia.

Difficulty with Money

Often, dementia affects people's ability to think about money. A loved one may be having trouble regulating their spending, or they might suddenly be hoarding money. They might forget bills or pay bills twice a month. Sudden difficulty with maintaining appropriate finances might be a warning sign of dementia.

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Memory Loss, Poor Judgment, or Confusion

The hallmark sign of dementia is memory loss. People simply forget. Granted, some people tend to be forgetful. Still, an increase in absent-minded behavior or forgetfulness should be considered a red flag, especially if it is causing interference with aspects of their daily life.

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Repeating Questions

We all need clarification from time to time, but when someone has to ask the same question multiple times, there is a deeper problem. Sometimes, people will try to phrase the question in slightly different ways or ask for elaboration on strange points. Repeated questioning is a sign of dementia.

Unusual Vocabulary

When people with dementia begin to lose vocabulary, they may find novel ways to express questions or ideas. For example, some people with dementia will frequently replace words with nonsense words or sometimes with generic words: the thing, the whozit, the one there. Changes in language use can be associated with dementia.

Impulsivity

Impulsivity in dementia is defined as "a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned actions responding to internal or external stimuli without regard for the consequences they might bring to oneself or to the others." Common behaviors associated with this kind of impulsivity are problem gambling, overeating, violence, and stealing.

Indifference to the Feelings of Others

Older woman with dementia sitting a wheelchairNormal family relationships involve emotional respect. We care about the feelings of our loved ones and even about the feelings of others in social situations. When an ordinarily respectful and emotionally intelligent family member suddenly becomes blunt, cruel, or indifferent, they may be suffering from dementia.

New Difficulty Reading or Writing

As dementia begins to change a person's cognitive functioning, their ability to use language can often be affected. It can become difficult or even impossible to read, even for people who were highly literate before. In addition, a person's ability to write notes, letters, or even lists can begin to slip.

Difficulty Expressing Ideas Verbally

Along with difficulty reading and writing, a person with dementia may have a hard time expressing themselves verbally. They may struggle to explain a concept, or they may become irate when they can't make themselves understood. As a result, they may become very vague. These changes are frequently associated with dementia.

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Wandering, by Foot or by Vehicle

Wandering behavior is often a sign of dementia. Of course, we all enjoy a pleasant stroll now and then or even a delightful country drive. However, people with dementia will often become lost when navigating, become confused about their destination, or otherwise become disoriented. When on foot, people with dementia will frequently walk to the point of exhaustion, often in an effort to get home.

What to Do if You Think a Loved One Has Dementia

If you have noticed these signs in someone you care about, what should you do?

Be Direct

The most important thing to do is to be direct. You should have a conversation with them in a safe place where you both feel comfortable, ideally a place where you can be heard clearly and speak freely.

Be Honest

Older couple sitting together and talking on a bench outdoorsOnce settled in an appropriate location, you should mention the things you have observed: difficulty remembering things, absent-mindedness, problems with everyday life. For example, you could mention that you've noticed that they have seemed to have trouble with their memory lately. You can ask if they have been feeling stressed out or sleeping poorly and encourage them to see a doctor. If they have noticed the same things, your confirmation of their experience may encourage them to follow your advice and see the doctor.

On the other hand, people with dementia can sometimes have difficulty recognizing the changes in themselves. Or, they may see the symptoms but have trouble coping with them. In these cases, they may reject your suggestion or deny that there is a problem. If this happens, try to find an alternative reason to persuade them to go to their doctor.

Don't Self-Diagnose

While these concerning signs might seem like dementia, it is important not to make the diagnosis. There could be several alternative explanations for many of these changes, and it is important that a person with these signs be evaluated by a doctor. The best thing you can do for someone you think has dementia is to get them to their doctor.

Take Care of Yourself

It can be highly stressful when a loved one is experiencing these symptoms or when someone you love is diagnosed with dementia. It is natural to be stressed out and worried about your loved ones, but it is crucial to ensure you care for yourself. Get rest, eat nutritious food, and take time to exercise. Taking care of yourself will keep you in shape to help take care of them if they need it.

Resources for Dementia

One of the best resources if you think a loved one has dementia is alz.org. There, you can find a 24/7 helpline, 1-800-272-3900, and an extensive library of resources.

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