The most common reason people call my office seeking in-home care is that the caller is responsible for a loved one suffering from dementia and that loved one can’t be left alone. One of the most important things we can ask when dealing with loved ones as they age is “what are the early warning signs of dementia?”
Throughout this article, I will be using the term “dementia”. Alzheimer’s and dementia are not the same things. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia but there are numerous other types of dementia. I will be using the more inclusive term dementia but what I am saying applies to Alzheimer’s also.
One of the most common ways people become aware that a loved one may be experiencing dementia-related issues is an inability to handle what previously had been simple daily tasks. Dementia sufferers often have difficulty making seasonally appropriate clothing choices. Another clothing related issue we often see is wearing the same outfit over and over. Maybe the clothing they wear is not kept clean. Hygiene is another common clue. Someone who has always paid attention to personal appearance is not bathing regularly or at all. Maybe they spent time every morning putting makeup on and preparing themselves before the day started but suddenly they are no longer doing so and don’t seem to care.
Issues related to monthly bills is another potential warning sign. You notice bills piling up when you visit or bill collectors calling where that loved one never had problems paying bills before. What makes the financial piece of this so challenging is that most of us are really private when it comes to finances. You may not know there is a problem until the problem has grown to the point where it can no longer be kept secret. A consistent theme throughout these articles I’ve written has been the need for open communication. If you have someone with whom you are close and that person is having financial issues related to dementia, you need to know about it as soon as possible. Financial problems can get out of hand quickly and the sooner you are aware the sooner you can do something. One of the saddest things I see on an all too frequent basis is seniors getting scammed. Dementia sufferers have difficulty making rational financial decisions, which makes them easy targets for scammers. Once someone has been scammed out of money there is very little chance of ever getting that money back.
Another warning sign of dementia is putting things away in unusual places and then not being able to remember where those things are. Often those suffering from dementia will accuse others of stealing those items. Something else to keep an eye out for is withdrawal from normal social activities. Maybe there has been a group of friends that meet regularly for bridge or other social activities and suddenly your loved one is not going.
Where does one go if one has questions about whether or not a loved one may be suffering from dementia? Start with the family doctor. He/she might refer you to a specialist like a neurologist or a geriatric psychiatrist. This topic, like most I talk about in these articles, is much more complex than can be adequately covered in 500 +/- words. For more information, I encourage you to visit the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.