We’ve all forgotten a person’s name, where we put our keys, or whether we locked the front door after leaving home. While these things indicate memory lapses, experiencing them from time to time doesn’t mean we have dementia. However, forgetting how to make change for a transaction, how to use the telephone, or how to find your way home may point to a more serious underlying memory problem.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an umbrella term used to describe a collection of symptoms that include changes in thinking, memory, and other cognitive functions. These symptoms can be caused by a number of different health conditions, some of which may be treatable.
Since the initial warning signs of dementia are typically very subtle, it can be difficult to notice changes in thinking, functioning, or behavior until symptoms become more severe. This is particularly challenging if you don’t see your loved one in person regularly.
Although dementia primarily affects elderly individuals and is becoming increasingly common, it isn’t a normal part of the aging process. Even one of the cognitive issues above can have serious consequences, so it’s crucial to keep an eye out for changes in an aging parent’s mental state.
Does my mom have dementia? Quiz them
Early signs of dementia are often overlooked. Ask strategic questions to help you spot concerning patterns in a parent’s behavior early on:
- Are they constantly misplacing everyday items?
- Do they avoid social interactions?
- Are they exhibiting sudden mood swings?
Also, keep an eye out for these dementia warning signs and make note of significant changes. Your observations can help a doctor determine if further cognitive or medical testing is needed.
I think my parent has dementia: What should I do?
Be proactive in seeking answers on your loved one’s mental health. If the answer was yes to any of the above questions or if you’re concerned about other dementia-like symptoms, it’s important to talk to your family member about seeing a doctor.
Consult your loved one’s doctor
If you’re worried about your aging parent’s cognitive health, the first thing to do is schedule a thorough evaluation of their physical and mental health. This comprehensive checkup might include a physical exam and lab tests to rule out treatable conditions that can mimic dementia. The doctor will likely conduct mental assessments to check their memory, problem-solving skills, and math and language skills. Diagnostic imaging also may be necessary.
A complete medical exam for memory loss involves a great deal of information about an individual’s past, current health status, and lifestyle choices. A correct diagnosis depends on accurate details. Sometimes dementia patients cannot recognize their impairment (a symptom called anosognosia) or provide this level of detail honestly, so the doctor may request additional information from a family member, caregiver, or close friend.
Read: Medical Tests Used to Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease
If your elderly loved one is showing signs of dementia, it is important to schedule appointments for these comprehensive tests and assessments as soon as possible. Sometimes, this is easier said than done since many seniors refuse to go to the doctor. Those who do attend appointments may somehow manage to put on a convincing performance of health for their physicians — a phenomenon called “showtiming.” The possibility of receiving a diagnosis of dementia is incredibly scary, so try not to be frustrated if your parent is uncooperative. Even if you aren’t authorized to control your loved one’s medical care, you can still share your concerns with their doctor in person, by email, or by phone.
When dementia symptoms initially present, a diagnosis isn’t always made right off the bat; however, the results of comprehensive tests can be used as a baseline for comparison against the results of future testing. Comprehensive health testing makes it possible to keep track of any future decline.
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Help them plan for the future
Early diagnosis is crucial so that dementia patients can receive treatments that may potentially delay further cognitive decline, and so families can effectively prepare for the legal, financial, and care needs of the future. Ideally, most of these preparations and discussions will have taken place long before you began to suspect changes in your loved one’s mental state. If not, helping your parent spell out their wishes while they’re still capable will ensure you’re both prepared for whatever may lie ahead.
Read: Planning Ahead for Mom and Dad’s Care
Explore resources and care options
There’s no such thing as being too prepared. Even if needing additional support seems like it’s a long way off, someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services in their remaining years.
Understanding care options can help ensure your parent gets the care they need and may minimize future stress for you. Should your loved one be diagnosed with dementia, consider reaching out to a Care Advisor for free advice on how to plan for home care, which can help a senior age at home as safely as possible. You may also find helpful tips and useful advice on the AgingCare online support group for caregivers.
What Is Dementia? (https://www.cdc.gov/aging/dementia/index.html)
Reversible dementias (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038529/)
10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s (https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/10_signs)
How Much Care Will You Need? (https://acl.gov/ltc/basic-needs/how-much-care-will-you-need)