Watching a person you love appear to slip away mentally and emotionally is a painful experience. No one is ever prepared for it but there are ways to cope and grow from it. The first step is acknowledging that it’s happening. The indicators of dementia or Alzheimer’s onset are commonly brushed off as signs of age or fatigue, but by taking time to understand the differentiating behaviors, you’ll be able to recognize the signs of a potential problem, and help your loved one get the assistance they may need.
Here are some things to look for:
- Memory Loss. It is one thing for your loved one to forget where he put his keys, but it’s another if he forgets every day. It’s the prevalence of memory loss that distinguishes dementia from weariness or age; does it happen occasionally or often? Also, is he able to remember experiences from long ago but can’t recall what he did yesterday? People frequently have a decent long-term memory, but have a very challenging time with their short-term memory.
- Difficulty Speaking. This includes struggling to find the right word or phrase for a sentence, inventing new words and/or slurred speech. Oftentimes dementia sufferers will latch onto one word or phrase they’re comfortable with and reuse it to describe completely different things. These symptoms of the disease are incredibly frustrating and because of that people commonly revert inwards and speak less.
- Mood Swings. Confusion and agitation is part of the disease and can be easily mistaken for old age. Something to be on the lookout for is “sundowning,” which happens when the sun goes down and confuses dementia sufferers. They may become increasingly restless and irritable; unfortunately this often leads to combative behavior.
- Problem Solving. The inability to make sound judgments, complete simple tasks and/or function on a daily basis are signs to look for. Whether it is having trouble turning on the dishwasher or reading the clock, these small incidents will reoccur and grow worse as the disease progresses.
- Physical Changes. In addition to the mental blockages a person with dementia suffers, there are also certain physical changes to be aware of. Some common physical symptoms are dizziness, problems with balance, tremors and leg and arm weakness.
If you think your loved one may be experiencing the beginnings of dementia, the next step is to schedule a doctor’s appointment. If possible this appointment should be with a memory loss specialist, geriatric care internist, psychiatrist or neurologist.
Waiting for the results can be a difficult and upsetting phase. Being available for your loved one, both emotionally and physically, will make all the difference. And don’t forget to take care of yourself!
You’ve helped in diagnosing the disease; this is the first and hardest step—but critical in getting a leg up in treating its effects.