Early Signs of Dementia: A Checklist for Friends and Family Members

Dementia affects more than 50 million people around the world, with 10 million new cases registered every year, according to the World Health Organization. It’s a disease that causes a mental decline in memory, thinking, reasoning and an individual’s ability to perform daily living activities.

Here are 10 signs that you may notice early in dementia’s onset in friends or family members:

Early Signs of Dementia

  1. Memory loss
  2. Difficulty performing tasks
  3. General disorientation
  4. Language problems or problems with articulation
  5. Difficulty with abstract thinking
  6. Declining judgment abilities
  7. Declining spatial skills
  8. An increasing tendency to misplace things
  9. Lack of initiative
  10. Significant mood changes

When You’ll See Dementia Signs

While dementia can occur in adults regardless of age, its risk greatly increases after the age of 65. Among those affected, the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for between 60 and 70 percent of total cases.

As a mental health syndrome, dementia has a physical, psychological, social and economic impact, not just on those directly affected, but also on the people close to them. Why? Because dementia is very difficult to recognize by the individual dealing with it. Since the condition affects memory and reasoning, it makes it harder for adults to accurately evaluate their own situation and care for themselves. That leads to many friends and family members being the first to notice the early signs of dementia and the first to take action.

Each of the signs above are subject to interpretation. For some, they may simply be signs of the natural aging process. However, if they are early indicators of dementia, then ignoring these signs can cause dementia to go undiagnosed for a long period. The longer dementia goes undiagnosed, the more likely it is that those with the condition will experience a decline in health that makes it difficult or unsafe for them to continue living alone. That can also result in stress for friends and relatives.

What to Do If You Notice Signs of Dementia in a Friend or Relative

While dementia’s early signs can be easily confused as normal aging, it’s important to acknowledge them as soon as they show up. Acknowledging the possibility of dementia does not mean you’re jumping to conclusions; you’re simply taking the appropriate action to confirm or dismiss a concern. There are several options you can consider pursuing:

Monitor the Individual

The first step in determining if someone has dementia is to review their condition. Did your relative have a momentary memory lapse, but otherwise recalls recent events easily? Or is it becoming increasingly difficult for them to remember what they did a few days ago? Pay close attention to the person you’re concerned about and take notes on how many signs you notice, as well as how often you notice them.

If you regularly see evidence of dementia, it may be time to broach the subject with your friend or relative. After that, your next step is to get a professional medical opinion.

Talk to a Doctor

Approaching your doctor is the best way to get a more definitive answer on whether or not someone has dementia. However, it’s not an easy step to take. Seeing a doctor can prove challenging for some people since it may be difficult to acknowledge the symptoms in the first place. Acting on them can prove even more distressing. No one wants to think about going through a mental decline.

A trip to the doctor’s can be made significantly easier, though, if one is accompanied by close friends and family. Talk to your friend or relative about the situation and help them see that getting a professional opinion is just one step in the process. Whether it’s dementia or just normal aging, a physician is the best person to diagnose the problem and provide advice. It’s important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible since it can open the door to supportive living or memory care that can help adults with dementia live stronger, safer lives.

Getting Diagnosed

Once you’ve made the decision to see a physician, you’ll go through a general diagnosis process. Your doctor will evaluate the individual showing dementia symptoms by talking to them and testing their abilities in a range of functions. Some of these tests include:

  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests to check skills such as memory, orientation, reasoning, judgment, language skills and attention.
  • Neurological evaluation for memory, language, visual perception, attention, problem-solving, movement, senses, balance and reflexes.
  • Brain scans such as CT scans and MRIs to check for stroke or tumors, or a PET Scan used to detect Alzheimer’s.
  • Laboratory tests that determine vitamin deficiencies that may impair mental functioning.
  • Psychiatric evaluation to evaluate whether other mental health conditions are contributing to symptoms.

What to Do After a Diagnosis

Your doctor may not find evidence of dementia at the evaluation. That’s good news and will likely reassure both you and your relative. However, if you still notice physical or cognitive decline that makes everyday tasks difficult – even if it’s a normal result of aging – you may want to consider a supportive living environment, such as assisted living, to alleviate the difficulties. Supportive living communities can provide the assistance individuals need so they can live the lifestyle they want.

Unfortunately, there’s also the chance that you will receive a dementia diagnosis, but much can be done to help people with dementia live well throughout their disease’s progression. Your doctor will help you determine if any medication is necessary, as well as helping you evaluate the individual’s capabilities and care needs. In many cases, individuals with dementia can live independent lives for years after diagnosis, and continue to live fulfilling lives in supportive communities even after they can no longer live alone.

Below are a few lifestyle changes that can help individuals with dementia improve their wellness.

Physical Exercise

While physical exercise is generally beneficial to persons of all ages, it can be particularly helpful for those living with dementia. The key benefits of exercise lie in building physical strength, improving balance and ensuring general cardiovascular health. Symptoms such as restlessness can also be moderated to some degree as the brain refocuses its energy on successfully completing exercise activities.

In terms of prevention, there is a growing body of literature that argues that when combined with a healthy diet, exercise can play a role in protecting the brain from the early onset of dementia as well. For those already coping with dementia, research has pointed to the role of exercise in slowing down the progression of cognitive impairment.

Calming Activities

Encourage physical activities that focus on whole-person physical wellness or introduce hobbies such as gardening or singing that can be mentally and emotionally therapeutic. What matters most is that the activity is enjoyable. This helps focus attention on your friend or relative’s existing abilities, as opposed to tasks that have become more challenging. These exercises can prove to be a bonding experience, too. They’ll reduce anxiety while also building a stronger relationship between an individual with dementia and those around them.

Clear Communication

When attempting to communicate a sentence or an idea to someone with dementia, it often helps to do so slowly and by presenting one basic concept at a time. Use gestures and point to simplify your descriptions and be patient when waiting for others to process and communicate a response. Introduce this type of communication when you notice that it’s becoming more difficult for the individual to understand simple ideas, thoughts or plans.

Build Rituals and Routines

Night-time is often the most challenging period for individuals with dementia. Sundowning, or night-time confusion, often exhibits in the mid to late stages of dementia but can affect anyone with the disease. Establishing some sort of routine ritual before one goes to bed can prove to be calming and therapeutic for people with dementia. A routine will help focus attention and provide structure.

When developing such routines, it’s important to keep in mind that their purpose is to set your friend or relative at ease. It would be advisable to turn attention away from loud noises coming from the TV or conversation in the living room, for instance. Leaving a nightlight on can prevent disorientation later in the night, as well. Limiting caffeine, discouraging napping and offering opportunities for exercise during the day may further ease night-time restlessness.

Keep a Calendar

A calendar may help affected individuals remember upcoming events, daily activities and medication schedules.

Plan for the Future

It’s important for affected individuals to develop long-term plans with those close to them while they are still able to do so. Planning can identify goals for future care and establish the roles people are to play on the journey. Support groups, legal advisers, family members and others might be able to help. People with dementia and their families need to consider financial issues, safety, daily living concerns and long-term care options.

Establish a Memory Care Strategy

Dementia causes a person’s memory and cognitive abilities to steadily decline. This makes it crucial to plan out an effective memory care strategy to help maintain a meaningful quality of life as the disease progresses. The affected individual and those close to them can decide on supportive living environments, healthcare planning and nursing. Even if some of these are not necessary during the initial stages, being ready can help ease stress.

Support for Friends and Family Members

Dementia is physically and emotionally taxing for the individual living with the condition and their friends, relatives and caregivers. Feelings of anger and guilt, frustration and discouragement, worry, grief and social isolation are common and completely natural. But no one with dementia or supporting someone with dementia is alone. There are multiple support options and steps you can take on your own to improve well-being.

  • Grow your own understanding of dementia by reading and attending community learning events.
  • Research supportive services within your community. Respite care can give caregivers a much-deserved break, while support groups provide a powerful emotional and social outlet.
  • Call on family, friends and close community members for support.
  • Track your physical and emotional health to ensure that you’re capable of living alone with dementia or can provide the necessary support to someone with dementia.

Supportive Living Options

Whether you’re dealing with dementia or just concerned about a friend or relative living alone, there are supportive living options that can help. At Lake Park Retirement Community, we provide a continuum of care from independent living to skilled nursing that provides the assistance adults need to live the life they want.

For us, supportive living is about enabling everyone to live life to the fullest. We’re an Oakland community that overlooks Lake Merritt, with stunning views of San Francisco Bay. Contact us for more information or to tour the community.

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