Spotting early signs of dementia in the elderly

“Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging”.

Symptoms of dementia:

  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in behavior
  • Impulsivity/lack of judgement
  • Social inappropriateness
  • Memory Loss/confusion
  • Difficulty managing daily tasks such as finances, dressing, TV or phone
  • Decline in hygiene • Difficulty reading/writing
  • Repetitiveness in conversation
  • Hallucinations/delusions
  • Trouble with balance
  • Word finding issues
  • Getting lost
  • Apathy towards others

Not everyone with dementia will exhibit all of these symptoms. No two individuals are alike, and the cause of their dementia will vary. Some causes of dementia include injuries to the brain also known as a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, substance abuse, or genetics. Some of the most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular, Lewy Body, frontotemporal as well as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease with dementia. Sadly, these are just a handful out of hundreds. The cause of dementia is often times unknown, and it can be challenging to get a proper diagnosis.

If you or your loved one is exhibiting any of these symptoms the first step should be seeking medical attention from their primary care or emergency medicine depending on the severity, to rule out infections or other causes. Something as simple as a urinary tract infection can cause severe changes in behavior and cognition among older adults. Also, medication interference and side effects, dehydration, recent hospitalizations and even anxiety and depression can cause cognitive impairments with dementia like symptoms. There’s also been an increase in Lyme disease being misdiagnosed as dementia.

Once those are ruled out you may want to see a specialist for testing. A geriatrician’s office is generally better suited for ongoing cognitive testing for memory loss than a primary care, but they may not be enough either. It’s important to note than one’s education level and type of dementia may allow them to pass initial cognitive testing with flying colors despite an obvious change in behavior. In this case, a more in-depth testing from a psychiatrist, psychologist, audiologist, or neurologist may be needed. Unfortunately, a diagnosis is rarely a perfect science, and you may be only given an answer as a possibility. You may need to advocate for your loved one along the way.

The benefits to getting a diagnosis include understanding the potential progression of disease, pharmacological options, and caregiving strategies. As certified dementia practitioners with years of experience in memory care communities and home settings, we find it imperative to develop care plans for individual needs and striving for a proper diagnosis is an integral part of that process.


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