Dementia is a real concern, especially as we get older. A broad term, it applies to any decline in mental function severe enough to impact everyday life. It can be scary to bear, whether you are experiencing this decline or watching a loved one struggle. As dementia is not actually a disease, but rather a collection of symptoms, there are a number of potential underlying factors. While the most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease, it could also be the result of a stroke or Huntington’s disease.
Here is how you can identify the onset of dementia, and what elderly care steps to take once the warning signs have presented themselves.
The warning signs
There are several symptoms that can indicate dementia. The presence of just one symptom is not enough for an affirmative diagnosis. Rather, two or more of the following functions have to show signs of impairment, according to the Alzheimer’s Association:
“Memory loss can start very subtly.”
Memory: Memory loss can start very subtly and gradually. It can also affect a person’s ability to remember things in the short-term but not the long-term: your loved one could have a clear recollection of a day years ago, but have trouble recalling what he or she had for breakfast that morning. Missed appointments and lost items are early signs that something could be amiss.
Communication and language: Those with dementia can have difficulty accessing words as readily as they used to. They have a clear idea of what they would like to communicate, but have trouble forming the sentences themselves. Conversations that were once simple can become prolonged and frustrating. Again, this is a change that can manifest gradually.
Ability to focus and pay attention: Dementia can make it hard to focus on storylines. Memory loss means that words that were just said are quickly forgotten, which can lead to a general state of confusion. Apathy is another sign of dementia, which affects not just the ability of a person to pay attention, but his or her willingness.
Reasoning and judgment: With dementia, it can be difficult to understand or follow routines. This can lead to changes in behavior, including the person doing things that appear inappropriate. If a loved one begins doing things that she or he never would otherwise, it can be a clear warning sign.
Visual perception: Spatial awareness can be one of the first things that dementia affects, which can make a person unsteady on their feet. This can be particularly dangerous, as the elderly are the most likely to experience dementia and the also most endangered by a sudden fall.
Talk to a doctor once you notice the signs of dementia.
What to do
Because there are multiple causes of dementia, there are also multiple courses of care. The first step is to take your loved one to see a physician. Having as much knowledge as possible is a big part of elderly care, and while Alzheimer’s disease is a scary diagnosis, there are treatments that can help. The problem could also be something more innocuous, such as an underactive thyroid or low B12 levels. In these cases, the quicker the problem is identified, the sooner it can be addressed.
In addition to providing clarity on the causes, visiting a doctor can provide insight into which behaviors are safe and which are dangerous. Perhaps cooking or driving are prohibitively risky. In this case, advanced care planning might be necessary to ensure that your loved one has somebody around to help them with difficult tasks. The sooner you understand the issue, the more involved the patient can be in the process.
This involvement is especially valuable when it comes to end of life planning. As much as possible, everybody should have a say in what happens to them after they pass, so if you notice the warning signs of dementia, it may be time to begin a conversation about end of life support.