Having a loved one with dementia can be tough. It’s not only troubling for the individual who has dementia, but it can also be very stressful for the caretakers of that person. Often times dementia is only diagnosed or treated after significant problems have occurred. This is usually a result of seniors or family members of seniors being in denial that there are actually issues that need to be addressed. We hope this article will be helpful to present the early dementia warning signs that should be on your radar. If any of your elderly loved ones are showing any of these signs, you should seek medical advice.
Let’s start by first explaining the differences between dementia and Alzheimers disease. Everyone who has Alzheimers has dementia, but not everyone who has dementia has Alzheimers. Sounds a little confusing, right? Think of dementia as an umbrella. Alzheimers is just one of many diagnoses that falls under the dementia umbrella. It just happens to be the most well-known and most diagnosed dementia disease.
Early Dementia Warning Signs
Below is our list of the top 10 dementia warning signs. As we will clarify several times in the points below, these do not pertain to forgetful individuals who have yet to reach senior status. We all have issues remember names and appointments from time to time. These warning signs are specifically for elderly individuals for whom declining mental health can be a problem.
1. Memory loss that disrupts your daily life.
Have you ever been around someone that keeps asking the same question over and over again? Well, that is an early sign that your loved one might have some form of dementia. Now we all forget names and appointments on occasion, but it typically doesn’t disrupt our daily lives. If the memory loss is significantly affecting the daily life of an individual, you definitely have a cause for concern and should seek medical advice.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems.
Does it now take longer to perform routine tasks that used to be done in a short amount of time? For example, does it now take much longer for a person to manage their finances or pay their bills. I had a friend whose mom would pay a bill as soon as it hit the mailbox, almost before the mailman was able to pull away in his truck. When his mom got older and she started being 30 to 45 days on paying her bills, he knew there was an issue. She was having problems solving her daily activities such as financial management. Something that was previously done very quickly was now taking an extraordinary amount of time to do.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
Maybe your mom or dad has driven to the same church at the same time, every Sunday for the last 40 or 50 years. But now they’re having trouble finding the church or maybe they’re having trouble finding their way home from church. This would be considered a difficulty completing a familiar task — something they’ve done over and over again like driving to church. Other examples would include organizing grocery lists, making coffee or other quick kitchen preparations, playing card games, etc. If those familiar tasks suddenly seem unfamiliar to a person, that is a cause for concern.
4. Confusion with time or place.
I sometimes forget the time and date, but that happens to all of us. If a senior is consistently forgetting where they are or how they got to a certain place, that is a warning sign for dementia and a reason to seek professional medical help. Now this isn’t meant to be a warning sign for those of you who are retired and intentionally ignore the time and date. This is for those who is advanced in age.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships.
Number five on our dementia warning signs list is usually illuminated as a result of driving issues that a senior may be having. As people age, they can develop issues where they don’t judge distances very well. As a result, they tend to be involved in more vehicle accidents where they don’t see a car coming, they thought a car was farther away, or they rear-end another vehicle. If you notice that your loved one is having issues with distance or spatial relationships, you should seek help immediately. Taking the keys from mom and dad is always a tough and contentious decision, but it can save lives.
6. Problems with speaking words or writing.
Your loved one may be speaking and just stop in the middle of a conversation. My dad and my uncle had dementia, so I am very familiar with this warning sign. My dad would often stop in the middle of a sentence, pause, and appear to be pondering something. I would ask if he was okay, and his response was always “I’ll be darned, I just forgot what I was saying and I can’t get my train of thought back — I have no idea what I was telling you Dale!” So having trouble finding the right words or losing their train of thought in the middle of a sentence is a definite cause for concern.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to trace where they are.
I’ll use my dad as an example here again. For his birthday one year, I bought him a fire poker to keep at his his farm by the wood pile. One day he lost it. He swore that someone had broke through his two locked gates, walked a half mile up the path to his house, and stolen his fire poker. Now this fire poker wasn’t a precious metal by any means — I think I paid $50 or $75 for it at the time. And I’m pretty sure that if someone was going to take the trouble to break two gates and walk that far, they wouldn’t just steal a fire poker.
But he insisted that somebody had stolen it. Turns out that he had just misplaced it. He laid it somewhere and forgot that he had put it there. I found the fire poker sitting beside the wood pile, right where it should have been. But he just could not locate it. We all misplace things on occasion. But we usually can go back and trace our steps to find it. An individual with dementia will lose that ability to retrace their steps and will tend to lose things more often as a result.
8. Decreased or poor judgment.
This is one of the dementia warning signs that usually rears its head when it comes to grooming. Elderly individuals with dementia will start to pay less attention to their growing and general hygiene. They forget or neglect to take care of themselves like they did previously. As a result their hygiene and heath subsequently suffer. They lose the reasoning to know when they should bathe, shave, or perform other routine hygiene on themselves. It just goes out the window. This can be a serious issue and is usually a pretty obvious warning sign.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.
We’ve posted previous blogs where we talked about the effects of COVID quarantine on our seniors, especially those dealing with dementia. Quarantine is really bad for people with dementia. It greatly affected by dad and took away his socialization. Many times, people with dementia are embarrassed and they naturally start to withdraw because they don’t understand conversations or can’t follow conversations like they once could. If your loved one is starting to show signs of this, be sure to bring the conversation down to a level so they can understand and be part of the conversation. Talking above them will only make them withdraw further.
10. Changed mood and personality.
Number ten on our dementia warning signs list ties into number nine and the withdrawal from work or socialization. Due to their loss of ability to converse at a high level, people with dementia can easily get depressed. They can also get very suspicious, fearful, anxious, and easily get very upset about trivial or non-existent issues. I remember speaking with my dad about the fire poker. He would get very upset when he started thinking about someone going through his gates, walking up the path to his house, and stealing his fire poker. Thankfully, we found the fire poker.
Don’t Deny the Dementia Warning Signs
This isn’t an easy topic for anyone. I’ve lived it over the last several years with my dad. It’s difficult to think in these terms and it can be difficult to admit that a family member is showing signs of dementia. But these signs are meant to help you. Hopefully they’ll help you recognize the need of care for your loved one — the need to circle the wagons around and try to understand as best we can what your loved one is experiencing. It’s a rotten disease. It’s not curable and there’s not much we can do about it. All we can is love and support our loved ones like I did with my dad.
Another good resource is the Alzheimer’s Association website. They have additional information that help you detect these dementia warning signs and seek professional medical help. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact us by completing this page. If you’d like to see this blog in video format, you can watch it below. Please be sure to subscribe to our channel and ring the bell so you are notified each time we release a new video.