As our loved ones age, how do you know if they are showing normal aging changes or if they are showing early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s? The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s. In 2020, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 5.8 million people were living with Alzheimer’s disease. Warning signs for Dementia vary, but changes to behavior, increasing confusion, and loss of memory are common signs. Noticing these signs early may help you and your loved one prepare for the possibility of dementia.
Every dementia patient experiences different symptoms with various severities, but there are some early warning signs you can find. These are 10 signs to look out for in order to determine if a loved one should seek a comprehensive medical workup and cognitive testing for dementia.
10 Warning Signs and Symptoms of Dementia
1.) Forgetfulness and Short-Term Memory Loss
Memory loss is the most common symptom of most types of dementia. Alzheimer’s affects short-term memory first which means a person can forget information they recently learned. However, just because someone can’t remember where they put their keys or switch up names it does not mean they have Alzheimer’s. We all forget parts of a conversation from time to time, but an early symptom of dementia can result in someone forgetting entire conversations that just happened. Dementia patients may also forget important dates and events and frequently ask for the same information repeatedly. Caregivers may have to give reminders more frequently whether it's leaving notes or calling to remind them of daily tasks.
2.) Lack of Concentration and Increased Confusion
Another common symptom of dementia is getting confused about times and places and difficulty concentrating. Both can make daily activities take much longer than they used to. Dementia patients can forget where they are, how they got somewhere, and can easily get lost navigating familiar places. As dementia progresses, patients may have trouble differentiating between past, present, future events. They can lose track of seasons and general passage of time which causes them to either show up to appointments or events at the wrong time or not show up at all.
3.) Losing things
Dementia patients could start to put things in more and more unusual places. We all can misplace our car keys or house keys from time to time but finding “lost” keys in the refrigerator could be a sign of dementia. Patients could lose things and then not be able to retrace their steps to find their missing things. However harmless this may seem; this can escalate into theft accusations when they can’t find their personal belongings that they have unknowingly misplaced. Patients can become paranoid and subsequently put their things in even more unusual spots to ward off the suspected thief. Suspicion and delusions may occur in middle-to-late stage Alzheimer’s.
4.) Difficulty Doing Familiar Tasks
Dementia can also affect one’s capability to do normal daily tasks. Patients could have difficulty with coordination and remembering how to complete multi-step processes like driving, cooking, or playing a familiar game. They may start to rely more on their loved ones to do things for them. Caregivers should maximize the patient’s independence and allow them to try and figure it out but should remain cautious. Dementia can also affect depth perception, distance perception, and color perception. Caregivers may notice increased clumsiness, accidents, falls, and uncharacteristic mishaps.
5.) Language and Speech Problems
Alzheimer patients will typically have trouble recalling the right words while speaking or while writing. Some patients can use stand-in words like “thingy,” “thingamajig,” “doodad,” or “what-cha-ma-call-it” and can make up their words or terms for actions. For example, someone with dementia might call a fridge a “cold space.” Because of these confusions or impaired speech abilities, they may also stop talking or writing abruptly.
6.) Problem with Simple Math
Math may not come easy to everyone, but people in early stage dementia may have difficulty completing basic math problems. They can find it difficult to work with numbers in everyday life such as budgeting, calculating tips, or even adding and subtracting. Caregivers should remain patient when helping dementia patients with this. Patients may feel embarrassed so it’s also critical caregivers remain non judgemental, offering help or corrections as suggestions.
7.) Poor Judgement
Depending on the patient, changes in decision-making, through process, and judgement could be a sign of dementia. If a person has made risky decisions all through their life, dementia may not be the cause of their changes in decision-making. However, if a logical person who usually carefully weighs all the options and makes informed decisions suddenly begins showing poor or reckless judgement, dementia could be the cause of that. For example, if they start recklessly spending, inappropriately dressing for the weather, or falling for obvious scams (Nigerian prince) those could be a sign of dementia.
8.) Personality Changes and Mood Swings
Personality changes and mood swings could be a symptom of dementia. Patients can become fearful, suspicious, paranoid, depressed, or anxious. Someone who is usually confident may become more closed off and shy. Patients could easily become more upset when they’re frustrated especially when they are put outside of their comfort zone. Caregivers can reduce the effects by creating a calm environment and avoiding or limiting environmental triggers such as light glare or background noises.
9.) Changes in Grooming and Personal Hygiene
Changes in grooming and personal hygiene such as not changing clothes, skipping showers, and not brushing their teeth are common signs of dementia. In addition, neglecting basic upkeep of their home such as allowing clutter to accumulate and not cleaning at all are common signs of dementia. Caregivers may have to help patients with grooming, maintaining personal hygiene, and cleaning. However in cases where patients may refuse help, it is best to remain patient and explain to patients how you can help.
10.) Withdrawing from Friends and Family
Increased withdrawal from social events that one normally enjoys attending could be a sign of dementia. Patients may avoid social activities to prevent drawing attention to their other symptoms such as memory lapses or difficulty communicating. Patients who are aware of their signs or symptoms of dementia may be less confident in themselves which leads them to avoid interacting with their loved ones. If loved ones or caregivers notice this, reassurance and making patients feel comfortable in an environment could help.
What to do if you notice these signs?
If you recognize any of these signs and think any of your loved ones may have a form of dementia such as Alzhmeir’s, you should make a doctor’s appointment promptly. An early diagnosis is crucial as it can check for curable conditions that can mimic symptoms of dementia, devise care and treatment strategies, and make legal and financial plans for the future. Should you notice any of these signs, elder law planning may be something you need.
If you and your loved one need estate planning, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395 for legal assistance and enquiries.