You’re worried about your elderly loved one. She always had a great memory for details, now she doesn’t remember where her keys are, or when her favorite show comes on.
Is this just a normal part of aging, or signs that something more serious is going on? Could it be dementia?
The early signs of dementia
It’s important to catch symptoms of dementia right away. Sometimes, these symptoms can be caused by underlying medical conditions, which are treatable. Early treatment and some dementia medications can even slow the progression of certain untreatable types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s.
Dementia symptoms are often misunderstood and create frustration or exhaustion for clients and their family caregivers. For more family caregiver information, please watch our webinar on how to live with the challenging symptoms of dementia.
Common symptoms of dementia include things you might expect, like memory loss, difficulty planning, difficulty communicating, and behavior changes. But there are other common dementia signs that might surprise you. If your loved one is exhibiting any of these 12 signs, please get in touch with his or her doctor right away:
- Problems with walking and balance. A 2006 study made the surprising finding that the earliest signs of dementia may be physical, rather than mental. Watch out for problems walking and balancing, as well as a weak hand grip.
- Slips and falls. The symptoms outlined above can lead to frequent stumbling and falling. In one 2011 study of 125 older adults, people who fell most often during an eight-month period were found to also show other early signs of Alzheimer’s.
- Inability to detect sarcasm or lies. If you have noticed that your loved one has become unusually gullible lately, she may be exhibiting the early signs of dementia. A 2011 study found that patients with certain degenerative brain diseases couldn’t tell when someone was using sarcasm or speaking untruthfully.
- Staring. When we converse, we naturally move our eyes around. But someone with dementia might not. Instead, you might notice them staring frequently. You might also notice this eye movement problem if your loved one skips lines when reading aloud.
- Strange eating habits. Research is finding that different dementias often cause people to exhibit odd eating habits, such as a sudden strong taste for sweet foods, cramming food into their mouths, or even eating spoiled food or things that aren’t food.
- Being hurtful. Your usually sweet, kind mother is saying insulting or inappropriate things, and seeming to show no concern for how they might be hurting or embarrassing others. This behavior is not a usual part of aging–it’s a common early sign of dementia.
- Compulsive behavior. Many people like things done a certain way. But people in the early stages of dementia may exhibit strange obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as locking doors over and over, or buying a can of corn every time they visit the store, even though they have a cupboard-full at home. OCD and dementia can go hand in hand.
- Changes in handwriting. In some cases, people with dementia sometimes display changes in handwriting. While their handwriting may have once been large, those with dementia often adopt a smaller, more cramped style of handwriting. This warning sign is common with individuals who have dementia with Lewy bodies, or Lewy Body Dementia (LBD).
- Difficulty speaking and choosing words. People with dementia have their cognitive process impaired. As a result, you may notice your loved one has a hard time finding the right words to express themselves. They may forget themselves in the middle of a conversation or have a diminished vocabulary.
- Hallucinations, or seeing things that aren’t there. One of the more frightening dementia signs (particularly associated with Lewy body dementia, too), is when a person starts seeing people and things that aren’t there. Sometimes, the person may claim to see people − or even animals − when there are none in the room.
- Difficulty solving simple problems. While solving a simple mathematical problem, or following a recipe may seem easy to most, those in the early stages of dementia may and it hard to do so. People with dementia may also take longer to complete simple tasks that they were once able to do with ease.
- Making frequent bad decisions. While everyone makes mistakes, those with Alzheimer’s Disease may display poor judgement on a regular basis and on a much larger scale. They may dress inappropriately for cold weather, loosen up on their grooming habits and personal hygiene, or give away large amounts of money to virtual strangers. Childlike behavior in elderly adults could be a sign of dementia.
What to do if you think your parent has dementia
If you notice that a loved one has started exhibiting some of these symptoms, you may want to take them to see their doctor and undergo a dementia test to determine their condition. They may prescribe dementia treatment to lessen the disease’s progress. This treatment may even include brain training games or even light exercise.
Depending on the severity and progression of your loved one’s illness, you may want to consider developing a dementia care plan with your doctor or looking for in-home care or caregivers experienced in working with older adults with dementia.
Have you had a loved one who experienced the early dementia stages? Did he or she show any of these signs, or any others? Share your experience in the comments!