Those who are closest to us know us best. So, it should come as no surprise that family and close friends are often the first to notice signs of dementia. Unfortunately, many people assume that the changes they are seeing are a natural part of the aging process. This leads to a delay in getting a proper diagnosis.
While the thought of developing dementia may be scary, it is important to get an early diagnosis. An early dementia diagnosis gives your loved one access to valuable support and resources that can allow them to live independently for longer.
By learning the early signs of dementia, you can support and encourage your loved one to not only get a proper diagnosis, but to plan for the future.
Dementia Diagnoses are Expected to Increase Over the Years
Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that approximately 55 million people worldwide have some form of dementia. That number is expected to increase over the years as people live longer and healthcare improves.
By 2030, it is believed the number of people worldwide who suffer from dementia will increase to 78 million. In another 20 years, in 2050, that number is expected to double and approximately 139 million people worldwide will have some form of dementia.
Even though dementia is becoming more common, it is still going undiagnosed. The Alzheimer's Disease International estimates that approximately three quarters of those living with the disease have not gotten an official diagnosis. Failure to get properly diagnosed leads to delays in treatment and makes it difficult to access valuable resources and support, such as 24-hour home care for the elderly with dementia, that can help improve quality of life.
As the number of people who develop dementia increases, it is important that we learn to identify the early warning signs of dementia.
Examples of Early Signs of Dementia
It is important to understand that dementia is a general term used to describe the loss of memory, cognition, language, problem-solving and other abilities that are so severe that it interferes or causes difficulty with day-to-day tasks. There are several different types of dementia, such as Alzheimer's, Lewy Body Dementia, and Vascular Dementia.
Each type of dementia affects the brain differently and causes different types of symptoms. For example, Alzheimer's tends to affect short and long term memory while Lewy Body Dementia affects executive functioning, such as complex task management, problem solving and critical thinking, as well as motor-skills.
Since the different types of dementia affect the brain differently, the early warning signs will vary from person to person. Some individuals may have difficulties completing day-to-day tasks such as preparing meals or taking medicine while others may find it hard to communicate with others or have difficulty finding the right words.
The following are some examples of the early warning signs of dementia:
- Changes in short-term memory such as forgetting names, misplacing items and struggling to remember what they were supposed to do on a given day
- Changes in language - difficulty finding the right words, struggling to form sentences, or using words improperly
- Unexplained changes in mood such as becoming more depressed or being anxious/fearful all the time
- Difficulty completing tasks that used to be easy such as playing a favorite game, paying bills or following instructions to make a favorite recipe
- Loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies
- Withdrawing from social activities or events
- Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as asking the same question, repeating the same sentence or completing the same task multiple times
- Showing signs of poor judgment such as giving large sums of money to strangers, putting oneself in unsafe situations
- Difficulty with changes to schedule or basic routines
- Finding it difficult to follow stories or instructions
- Difficulty completing day-to-day tasks such as bathing, meal prep, medication management because of an ability to remember the tasks need to be done or because of a lack of cognition and understanding the tasks need to be done
It is important to remember that a loved one probably will not exhibit all of the signs of dementia especially when the disease is in its early stages. If any of the signs listed above are causing a loved one to struggle with day-to-day tasks, it is best to consult a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.
What to Do if You Think a Loved One is Showing Signs of Dementia
Approaching a loved one with concerns about dementia is not an easy task. Many times, people either don't see a change in their behaviors, memory or abilities or - if they do notice a change - they don't think it is causing a problem in their day-to-day lives.
The best way to handle the situation is to take a gentle approach. Start by voicing your concerns to your loved one or by asking them questions such as "were you too tired to take out the trash" or "did you happen to pay the bill this month". Taking a gentle approach allows your loved one to feel comfortable voicing concerns and problems with you.
If you are uncomfortable speaking with a loved one about dementia but still have concerns, you can encourage them to go to the doctor. Try to find an unrelated reason, such as a medication management appointment or a physical, to get them to the doctor. Encourage your loved one to take you with them to an appointment so you can provide support and guidance as needed. If they don't want you to go to the doctor with them, you can always call and speak with their doctor about your concerns.
Ways to Improve Brain Health
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, there are things you can do to slow down the progression of the disease. That is why early diagnosis of dementia is so important. The sooner you know there is a problem, the sooner you can make changes that will help to improve your brain health and slow the progression of the disease.
Some of the things you can do to help improve brain health and slow down the progression of dementia include:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Working to improve or maintain your vascular health
- Mental stimulation such as doing a crossword puzzle, putting together a jigsaw puzzle or doing a word search
- Getting a good night's sleep
- Social engagement - regularly interacting with friends and family or just getting out and being around people for a little bit
- Follow through with your healthcare plan - make sure you are attending regular appointments with your doctor or specialists and following all instructions for medications
Planning Ahead When You Notice Signs of Dementia
Even if all precautions are taken, dementia will continue to progress. As the disease progresses, your loved one will need more care, guidance and support. Planning for the future by working with a company like Home Instead that provides in home care for the elderly will not only help your loved one maintain their independence, but it will reduce your stress as a caregiver.
Home Instead is ideal for families looking for in-home Alzheimer's care for elderly with dementia. The services provided are customized to meet the individual needs of the client. In the beginning stages of the disease, the senior caregivers can provide basic support and assistance. As dementia progresses and your loved one needs more help and assistance, additional services can be added. Since it is the same organization that you worked with, your loved one won't experience a huge change to their routine.
Caring, or just being around, a loved one who is showing signs of dementia can be stressful and difficult. By working with an in-home senior care organization, like Home Instead, your loved one maintains their independence without placing the sole burden of care on you. The caregivers who provide care for senior with dementia help and assist your loved one so you aren't doing all the work yourself.