September 21, 2018
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How to recognize dementia as it starts creeping in

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
June 22, 2018
Navigating the aging journey

Dementia is normally applied to the severe aspects of mental impairment. In order to receive a diagnosis of dementia, an individual must be impaired in at least two areas besides just memory. Alzheimer’s marks 60 to 80 percent of all dementia’s. 

Loss of memory is quite common in the elderly. It is in no way considered to be the definitive symptom for dementia. Dementia is progressive. Symptoms emerge slowly and then significantly increase with time. Short-term memory loss is only one sign of this disease and is noticed when patients begin to misplace things, or forget appointments. Memory loss from dementia gradually worsens as the days, months and years go by.

While there is no cure for dementia - various treatments such as medicines, new therapies such as walking while having passionate discussions and alternative medicines often slow down the symptoms. 

1. Short term memory loss

It is normal for those in the early stages of dementia to experience short-term memory loss. Strangely, remembering the past, even many decades ago, appears easy. A person with early-stage dementia can struggle to remember an hour ago, yesterday or last week.

They will also be forgetting little things, like paying a bill, a planned lunch date with a friend, or a doctor’s appointment. They might walk into a room - and forget what they went in for.

Unfortunately, dementia means that short-term memory loss will only worsen over time. It is critical to visit a doctor as soon as these warning signs pop up so you can work to slow this down.

 2. Confusion

Along with short-term memory loss comes the onset of confusion. People who enter early-stage dementia eventually become unable to recognize people they have known for a lifetime. This also manifests into difficulty in communication. As the disease progresses, eventually the individual no longer remembers his or her vocabulary. This stage comes much later and is usually accompanied by Alzheimer’s disease.

Eventually individuals lose their freedom because they can no longer remember how to drive safely or remember how to get to and from their destination. This can lead to enormous frustration and emotional distress. Ideally this is best dealt with using compassion and gentleness.

3. Communication difficulties

A person entering the early stages of dementia will suddenly have difficulty adequately expressing himself or herself. This is because of an inability to remember the proper word to use.  

Communicating with a person who is in the early stages of dementia can be difficult and time-consuming. Adding to the frustration, those who are in the early stages of dementia can have difficulty following a conversation or a storyline. 

While frustrating for the loved one or caregiver; it is also frustrating for the individual – and some will work very hard to mask the symptoms for as long as possible. Patience is always encouraged. 

4. Inability to recognize sarcasm

Although it may seem unusual, research has shown that those individuals in the early stages of dementia are unable to recognize sarcasm. These individuals are also unable to tell when they are being lied to.

These symptoms have to do with injured proteins gathering in the frontal and temporal areas of one’s brain; thus resulting in neurons dying. The ability to understand if a person is lying or being sarcastic lies within the frontal lobe of the brain, therefore, if it is not functioning properly, this can be sign of dementia.

It’s important to note that this symptom is not applicable to all forms of dementia and research continues to look into the reasoning behind it.

5. Mood changes

Depression and moodiness are also typical of those who are entering the early stages of dementia. The person may undergo a complete personality change and their judgment skills may vanish.

Those entering the early stages of dementia need to be monitored and not left alone for extended periods. They can become unaware of dangerous circumstances and can potentially harm others as well as themselves.  

6. Loss of function

The inability to perform more complex, routine tasks is another indicator of the early onset of dementia. As dementia strikes at thinking and memory skills, functioning around daily tasks will also slowly decline. 

For instance, an accountant may lose the ability to balance a checkbook. Eventually this progresses into the inability to perform simple tasks, such as selecting an outfit for the day, or deciding what to eat, which can be dangerous as confusion leads to not eating at all and not being able to remember if food was eaten. Noticeable weight loss can be a warning sign for exactly this reason.

7. Loss of interest

Apathy is also a common symptom. This is due to slow but steady changes that are going on in their mind. It is difficult and frustrating for those who have been active all their lives, to suddenly lose their ability to track appointments, lunch dates and even decide what to have for dinner.

Those suffering from dementia will lose interest in the hobbies, friends and other activities they once loved and were passionate about. The end result is a dementia patient who may not want to leave the house, or participate in anything. Keeping a dementia sufferer active and social is a constant struggle for loved ones and caretakers.

8. Repetitive behavior

Dementia triggers memory loss and confusion. Early stage dementia people repeat themselves, either in conversation or activities. They may not remember whether they have eaten, bathed or not, or even if they have previously asked a question - or not.

Patience is of the utmost importance. The individual genuinely does not remember what has been said or done. Becoming impatient or responding harshly only causes feelings of worthlessness and may exacerbate the moodiness or depression that accompany the onset of dementia.  

 9. Difficulties Coping   

Early-stage dementia is difficult for both the patient and their loved ones. The individual with early-stage dementia may not comprehend the reason life has changed. Since they may be unable to remember people and places, life may seem a terrifying ordeal of new people and new experiences.

Change of any kind (especially scary change like a hospital visit) often generates a set-back they rarely rebound from.

10. Frequent falls

Falling frequently can also be a sign of early-stage dementia. Since short-term memory is affected by early-stage dementia, the individual may not remember that he or she has fallen. They also forget the circumstances surrounding bruises and even broken bones.

Falling is a big reason why dementia patients need frequent monitoring. Along with their memory loss, frequent falls are dangerous and can result in a visit to the hospital, or even be fatal. The best response to suspicion of dementia is an immediate trip to the doctor for a complete diagnosis.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.