Have you noticed small but frequent changes in the way that your mom or dad are acting? Mom is famous for her cooking but lately you notice that she is mixing up ingredients and can’t follow a recipe. Dad jokingly mentions to you that he got lost coming home from the grocery store, but you can see the real worry in his eyes. Or, have you noticed that in the middle of a conversation Mom can’t find the word she is looking for and loses track of what you were talking about?
Do you notice signs such as changes in memory, difficulty in completing daily activities or communicating effectively? The warning bells clang in your head and you wonder “Are these the early signs of dementia?”
Your first response may be to just ignore these early signs of dementia and hope it just goes away, but the best way to deal with dementia is to know the symptoms NOW, seek professional medical help and figure out what you can do to keep Mom and Dad safe.
Recent statistics from the World Health Organization list dementia as one of the leading causes of a loss of independence among the aging population. Worldwide, there are over 50 million people who are living with dementia.
According to the National Institute on Aging, up to half of the people older than 85 years will have some form of dementia, but dementia is NOT a normal part of aging. Many people will live into their senior years without signs of dementia.
1. Changes in Short Term Memory
You might notice that your loved one will clearly remember the details of an event that happened 50 years ago but they don’t remember going to a recent appointment.
Other things you might notice are:
– items are frequently misplaced
– your loved one walking into a room and not knowing why they are there
– forgetting what they had planned to do that day
TIPS TO HELP:
The best way to deal with slips in short-term memory is to help your parent develop a predictable routine and schedule. Everybody benefits from routine! A clear routine will help to reduce confusion and frustration for your loved one.
2. Having Trouble Communicating
Dementia affects the brain’s cells ability to communicate with each other. Your loved one may struggle to find the word for an object that they are looking at or holding. They may forget your name. Or not be able to finish a conversation.
This loss of effective communication is very frustrating for both you and your loved one.
TIPS TO HELP:
The Family Caregiver Alliance reminds us to always stay positive when communicating with a loved one. Our frustration will only make the symptom worse. Use a calm tone of voice and gentle touch to show that it’s okay not to get the right word.
Use more than just words to communicate. If your loved one is searching for something but can’t think of the word, pick up objects and ask “do you need a pen?”
3. Difficulty with Language
Another related sign of dementia is difficulty in understanding language. You might notice that not only does your loved one have trouble finding the right word to express what they are thinking, but that they also are having trouble understanding the meaning of the words you use, or to follow a storyline on a TV show or movie.
TIPS TO HELP:
What you can do is simplify your own words and sentences. Speak a little more slowly and make your voice deeper, not louder. If your loved one still can’t understand then repeat the question in the same way.
If your loved one is confused by a TV show then use the distraction! Suggest that you go and do something different. Take a walk or listen to music instead.
4. An Increase in Confusion
It is normal to have trouble finding a new place or follow directions as you age. With dementia you will see more of an inability to focus and pay attention or remember details.
Your loved one may become lost coming home from a familiar place. They may forget what time of day or day of the week it is, or have trouble following step by step directions such as a recipe.
You might also notice that your loved one is easily distracted and no longer completes tasks. You see a half-emptied dishwasher, laundry that has been in the washing machine for days. Or pieces of a project scattered across the table but your loved one is not able to say what they were going to make.
TIPS TO HELP:
To help your loved one you need to be realistic in your expectations. Decrease the amount of responsibility you expect your loved one to have while still maintaining their sense of independence.
If you can see that they are struggling to know what to do next, start an activity for them and gently cue them on the next steps. For example, put a load of laundry in the washing machine and when you hear the buzzer say “Can you move the wash to the dryer and turn it on?”
Supporting your loved one’s sense of self and dignity is important for both of you. It also protects your relationship.
5. Decreased Reasoning Skills and Judgement of Appropriate Behavior
An early sign of dementia that is often missed is a change in reasoning and appropriate behavior. It can seem like your loved one no longer has a filter and will say whatever comes to mind. You might notice problems with safety and hygiene. Oven burners may be left on, pots of water have boiled dry and your loved one may show disinterest in showering and wearing clean clothes.
Where once your loved one may have been particular about eating well and being active you now notice poor eating habits and not getting out.
A clear sign of dementia is poor judgement skills when it comes to money, such as giving away large sums of money, or buying things and not remembering why. Being unable to balance a checkbook or keep track of spending are also common early signs of dementia.
Your loved one with early dementia may start to make rude or sexually explicit comments or behave in ways that are out of character with who they have been. This is a clear sign of brain changes!
TIPS TO HELP:
Learn as much as you can about the symptoms and progression of dementia. This will help you to better understand that your loved one is struggling as much as you are with these changes. Your loved one is not purposely trying to cause you trouble.
Discuss the changes with your doctor and be open with friends and family members about what the changes you notice. Take some time for yourself to recharge. Remember to also do low-stress activities together with your loved one so you can continue to enjoy your relationship.
What to Do When You See Early Signs of Dementia
Being faced with the possibility of dementia for yourself or a loved one is frightening. Many people will want to avoid talking to a doctor so that their suspicions will not be confirmed. You might hope the signs will just go away.
There are many different forms of dementia and possible treatments available. The best thing to do is to make a list of the signs and symptoms that you have noticed, particularly changes over the last year or two. If you see 2 or more of the signs that we mentioned related to dementia, then it is time to see a medical professional. Recognizing the early signs of dementia can help you prepare for your loved one’s safety and care. Many people in the early stages of dementia can go on living happy and fulfilling lives for years. With the support of family and professional caregivers you can help manage the symptoms so that they can continue to do the things they love.
Not only does Nurse Next Door provide support and guidance to you and your family as you figure out the responsibility and changes that come with dementia, we also have services aimed at providing specialized dementia care. Nurse Next Door offers caregivers that are trained in providing 24 hour Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Professional caregivers can help your loved one continue to maintain their dignity and continue in their regular routine at home despite the challenges of dementia.
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Learn more about Nurse Next Door’s dementia care services or call us toll free at+1(877) 588-8609 to book a FREE Caring Consult!