As you grow older alongside your mother or father, you’ll be able to create new memories as you start a family of your own. But you may also start to notice that your parents are losing some of the abilities that they once had.
While some memory loss and impairment in motor skills is to be expected, there are behavioral and cognitive changes that are not a normal part of aging. Signs of dementia are important to look out for, as getting treatment early on can avoid problems later.
Let’s walk through some of the early signs of dementia as well as some tips and guidance for next steps.
Early Signs of Dementia
Dementia is a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving skills, and other cognitive abilities. Most of these impairments are severe enough to interfere with daily life. In many cases, the disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms gradually worsen over time.
Early stages of dementia may not seem much different from typical age-related changes. However, there are certain symptoms that might indicate something more serious.
Some telltale signs of dementia include:
- Frequently forgetting important dates or appointments.
- Having difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as getting to the store.
- Struggling to come up with the words to common objects.
- Difficulty following along to a conversation.
- Withdrawal from social activities.
- Frequent irritability and anger.
- Confusion about location or time of day.
- Trouble judging distance between two objects.
Early Dementia vs. Normal Behavior
Your mom or dad might forget a name every now and then, or they might seem to become stubborn about set routines as they grow older. However, some of these changes are typical patterns of aging and may not be representative of cognitive impairment.
In general, the changes associated with aging are milder and don’t interfere with their ability to function independently. For instance, it’s normal for an older family to forget where they put their keys. But it’s not normal for them to misplace them in unusual places, such as the bathroom.
It can be challenging, however, as everyone’s cognitive abilities look different as they age. It may be best to be more cautious. If you suspect that your mother or father is showing early signs of dementia, there are things you can do now to prevent stress and anxiety later.
The Next Steps
If you think your mom or dad has dementia based on the early signs, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Getting upset or stressed can cause your parent to become upset as well. Take a deep breath and remember that if your mother or father does have dementia, it is no one’s fault.
After that, here are the three most important steps to take.
1. Schedule a Doctor’s Appointment
The first step should be scheduling an appointment with a geriatric doctor to get a comprehensive test and diagnosis. One of the main reasons this is important is because there are a number of diseases that can mimic dementia in their signs and symptoms. This can help to rule out other potentially dangerous diseases that might have another course of treatment.
During an appointment, the doctor will conduct a series of mental and physical evaluations to assess your parent’s cognitive ability. They may also ask you questions about things you’ve noticed about their behavior, so it can be helpful to write some things down before you attend the meeting.
This is one of the most difficult steps in the process because it can be challenging to convince your loved one to see a doctor. It’s helpful to sit them down beforehand in a space where you both can speak freely. Let them know some of the things you’ve been noticing and that you’re worried about their safety.
If that isn’t enough, you can try to find a different, physical reason to encourage them to see a doctor. Recommend they get a physical check-up or a blood pressure test instead and the doctor may conduct a mental examination on their own to diagnose dementia.
2. Notify Family
If a doctor diagnoses your mom or dad with dementia, the next step is to notify the rest of your family. It is usually best to do this in a setting where you can address any questions in real-time, such as face-to-face meetings or through a video call.
Coming to terms with dementia is difficult, and it’s normal to experience sadness or frustration at this stage. However, it’s important to clearly communicate to your family the ways in which they can continue to care for their loved one while being prepared for the road ahead.
You may even be able to talk to your parent’s doctor to see if they are willing to speak to the entire family through a video call to address concerns and make them feel more comfortable.
3. Plan Ahead
Medications and therapy can alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia, but there is no cure. While it can be hard to find closure knowing this, it is important to come to terms with it so you can start planning for your parent’s future before things inevitably become more difficult.
In the early stages of the disease, your mom or dad will likely be able to still live independently with a little bit of help every now and then. However, they will need more assistance as the disease progresses.
Your parent will need more help in the middle stages. This might mean having family members check up on them daily, or it may even mean moving them into a family member’s home. With that said, caregiving can be a very time-consuming and stressful process for many.
It may be a good idea to think about assisted living facilities early on so you can involve your loved one in the process. This way, they can attend tours or do their own research so they can pick out facilities that best suit their needs.
Choosing to send a parent to an assisted living facility is a major step that comes with feelings of stress and guilt. A lot of this is attributed to the fact that many facilities are not equipped with the resources to address every resident’s needs.
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Resources For You
As stressful as it can be for your parent to receive a dementia diagnosis, it can be just as upsetting for you. It’s important to allow yourself to feel emotions and express them in a healthy way.
A great way to surround yourself with like-minded individuals is by joining a caregiver support group. This is an opportunity to gain valuable insight and share concerns among people who are going through something similar.
Also, it is important that you educate yourself on the disease and some of the things to expect as the condition worsens. This helps you prepare so that some of the behavioral changes don’t feel like blindsiding.
On top of all of this, it’s important to look out for yourself. Make sure you are exercising, eating healthy, and taking time to relax despite all of the stressors associated.
If you need to talk to someone, the Alzheimer’s Association has a 24/7 helpline where you can speak to a professional for guidance at any time.
While certain impairments in cognition and personality are to be expected with age, it is abnormal for these changes to severely impact daily life. If you suspect that your mother or father may have dementia, seeking help sooner rather than later can save you a lot of stress.
- It’s important to have a doctor diagnose dementia so they can rule out similar diseases.
- Keep the entire family involved in the process so that everyone is on the same page.
- Planning ahead and thinking about long-term care options in the early stages of your parent’s dementia allows them to be involved in the final decision.
- Support groups for caregivers and 24/7 hotlines are valuable resources for children of persons with dementia.
Coming to terms with the fact that a parent has dementia is never easy. But it also doesn’t mean that you can’t cherish and value the time you have left with them.
Lightyear Health can provide your loved one with the care they need to stay happier and healthier for longer.