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Is it Memory Loss or An Early Sign of Dementia?

A woman sits with her senior mother on a coach and talks to a health care professional

If you’re over 60, chances are you’ve experienced a senior moment. You forgot where you put your keys or your glasses. You walk into a room and momentarily forget why you went there in the first place. Or you see someone you know and can’t remember their name, though it comes to you later.It can be embarrassing and cause for worry. You know the odds of developing dementia increase with age, and that scares you. Maybe it’s not you you’re worried about, but your Mom or Dad. You’ve noticed they don’t seem as engaged at the dinner table and have trouble following the conversation. Or they keep bumping the wall in the garage when they park the car. It could be they need their hearing and vision checked. Or it could be early signs of dementia.Only a diagnosis from your doctor can tell for sure. And that’s after eliminating a host of other possibilities, such as prescription medicines, urinary tract infection, abnormal blood sugar levels, vitamin B12 deficiency, sleep apnea, thyroid problems and more. But if you think it might be dementia and not just the slow deterioration of old age, it helps to know what to look for.

Early signs of dementia

The early symptoms of dementia are more varied than being a bit forgetful. To be diagnosed with dementia, someone must show at least two or more of these 10 warning signs:

1. Memory problems that affect daily life.
Important dates and events, well-traveled routes, the names and faces of friends and colleagues — if your loved one can’t remember these facts on a regular basis, it could be an early sign of dementia.

2. Difficulty with planning and problem-solving.
Is Dad having trouble following a recipe? Is Mom forgetting to pay the bills? Making occasional errors when balancing the checkbook is normal. But if it’s a regular occurrence, it might be time to set up automatic payment of their monthly bills and make lists to aid their memory.

3. Problems finding the right word.
People with early dementia may substitute the word they’re after with something similar, such as a watch becoming a hand clock. They may stop mid-conversation and have no idea how to continue. Following the thread of a conversation may also be difficult, especially in noisy environments.

4. Confusion about time and place.
Losing track of time and place may be a sign of early dementia. Especially if the person forgets where they are or how they got there. Write down appointments, to-do lists and events to help organize their days. Signs on doors can also help identify a room.

5. Poor judgment.
If your frugal parent starts spending money on things they don’t need, watch out. Poor grooming or inappropriate clothing are two more signs.

6. Increasing clumsiness.
Dementia causes problems judging widths and distances. Falls become more common. Driving accidents may also become an issue. Consider ride sharing or public transport. And clear clutter to create a safer environment at home. If your loved one’s getting clumsier, check it out before someone gets hurt.

7. Misplacing things.
Once in a while, everyone forgets where they left their keys or phone. But if you retrace your steps, you’ll find it eventually. A person with dementia loses that ability. They may even put things in unusual places. If the phone’s in the refrigerator, talk to your loved one to learn what else is happening with them.

8. Mood changes.
In the early days of dementia, people’s moods may swing rapidly between sadness, fear and anger. Another sign is when a loved one always seems to be in a bad mood for no apparent reason, often finding fault and picking at you. Try to reassure them that everything is OK.

9. Loss of interest and initiative.
If your loved one has lost interest in their usual activities or needs prompting to join in with what family and friends are doing, that’s a signal something’s not right.

10. Changes in personality.
If someone’s behavior becomes abnormal, that could be a sign of dementia. Common changes include becoming confused, suspicious, withdrawn, angry or uninhibited. So if your prim and proper mother starts swearing like a trooper, take note. It’s just the illness talking.

Talk to your doctor

If you suspect dementia, give your doctor as much information as you can about your loved one’s symptoms and behavior. Once you have a diagnosis, you can start planning how to manage the symptoms, and perhaps even slow down the effects with medication.The diagnosis may come as a shock or a relief. In some cases, people may not understand what you’re telling them or may deny it. If they respond well, provide additional information. Most importantly, reassure your loved one that you’ll do all you can to support them.

There may come a point when your loved one needs more support than you can provide. At Freedom Village at Brandywine, our memory care neighborhood can provide the answer. Visit our Memory Care page to learn more about the quality of life we provide and our personalized approach to care.