Is it Forgetfulness or Dementia?

Your mom routinely misplaces her glasses and sometimes forgets to pay a bill.

Your dad has trouble remembering the names of his grandchildren and often snaps at them, which is out of character.

Are they experiencing the normal forgetfulness that comes with aging or is it something more serious, like Alzheimer’s or another dementia?

“It’s not unusual for seniors to forget things occasionally. They may also notice that it takes longer to learn new things or they don’t remember information as well as they used to – all typically a normal part of aging,” said Linda Lundeen, care advocate success trainer at the HomeCare Advocacy Network (HCAN). “With more serious memory problems, they generally have trouble doing everyday things like driving, using the phone or remembering the way home from church.”

Lundeen added that understanding the early warning signs of dementia, will make it possible to get early treatment and therapy that could slow down the rate of mental decline. Red flags to look for include:

Memory Loss. It’s normal to occasionally forget someone’s name or the name of an everyday object, but someone with dementia has memory loss that disrupts their daily life more than normal forgetfulness.

Communication problems. Struggling to follow simple conversations or contribute to them, maybe an early sign of dementia. If you notice that your loved one suddenly stops in the middle of a thought and can’t pick the conversation back up again, that could be another early indicator.

Changes in personality. One of the most common signs of dementia is a noticeable personality shift. You may notice rapid mood swings that make them appear suspicious, withdrawn, irritable, or anxious.

Confusion. People with dementia often become easily confused, especially with dates times of day, and locations.

Trouble performing everyday tasks. Another common sign is difficulty completing familiar tasks. For example, a person with dementia might not be able to follow a favorite recipe while cooking or do other tasks that require concentration that normal forgetfulness would not cause.

Language problems. People with dementia may put together sentences that don’t make sense, often referred to as a “word salad”. They may also have difficulty understanding others.

Gets lost easily. Frequently getting lost walking or driving is a common indicator of dementia.

Poor judgment. Poor judgment and reasoning a signs that a person may have dementia. Someone with dementia may forget to put on a jacket when they go out into the snow or bundle up in a heavy coat when it’s very hot.

Misplacing items. Someone with dementia will misplace items more often than others or even forget what the item is for.

Unusual behavior. Sometimes people with dementia will make unusual or bad decisions, such as failing to bathe or shower for weeks or making unwise monetary decisions.

Loss of joy in previously enjoyed activities. Someone with dementia will begin to withdraw from social or previously enjoyed activities.

“Realizing that your loved one may have dementia is scary. You may not know where to turn, but help is available,” Lundeen said. “Consulting your primary care physician is a good place to start. Your loved one may then be referred to a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist or a geriatrician for a complete evaluation. There’s also support for family members. Our caregivers provide consistent, compassionate care for our clients with Alzheimer’s or other dementia – giving families much-needed respite and peace of mind. We also offer a Family and Friends Dementia Education Class – a high-touch approach designed to help family members and friends understand what to expect with dementia and how they can care for their loved ones and themselves.”

The two-hour Family and Friends Dementia Education Class is free and open to everyone. To learn more or to register for an upcoming class, call the HCAN corporate office, 402-965-0737.