As life expectancy grows, and the population of people 60 years or older, we’re all seeing an increase in the level of concern about how well people will live, not just how long they will live. It’s not uncommon for people to say: “I just want to keep my marbles”. Those marbles, as it were, are the ability to remember things and the ability to manage their lives and not be a burden to others. These are not small concerns. Rather than silently worrying about “how bad am I”, it’s important to know how to find out and where to turn for help. The person experiencing memory loss is often the first to notice it, but it’s also families and friends who recognize how and if things are changing. One of the most troubling worries is the problem of Alzheimer’s disease, but it’s important to not jump to conclusions. Not all dementias are due to Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is a collection of symptoms that can occur due to a variety of possible reasons.
If you or your loved one is experiencing memory problems, don’t immediately conclude that it’s dementia. A person needs to have at least two types of impairment that significantly interfere with everyday life to receive a dementia diagnosis. In addition to difficulty remembering, the person may also experience impairments in: language, communication, focus, and reasoning.
1. Subtle short-term memory changes. Trouble with memory may be an early symptom of dementia. The changes are often subtle and tend to involve short-term memory. An older person may be able to remember events that took place years ago but not what they had for breakfast. Other symptoms of changes in short-term memory include forgetting where they left an item, struggling to remember why they entered a particular room, or forgetting what they were supposed to do on any given day.
2. Difficulty finding the right words. Another early symptom of dementia is struggling to communicate thoughts. A person with dementia may have difficulty explaining something or finding the right words to express themselves. Having a conversation with a person who has dementia can be difficult, and it may take longer than usual to conclude.
3. Changes in mood. A change in mood is also common with dementia. If you have dementia, it isn’t always easy to recognize this in yourself, but you may notice this change in someone else. Depression, for instance, is typical of early dementia. Along with mood changes, you might also see a shift in personality. One typical type of personality change seen with dementia is a shift from being shy to outgoing. This is because the condition often affects judgment.
4. Apathy or listlessness, commonly occurs in early dementia. A person with symptoms could lose interest in hobbies or activities. They may not want to go out anymore or do anything fun. They may lose interest in spending time with friends and family, and they may seem emotionally flat.
5. Difficulty completing normal tasks. A subtle shift in the ability to complete normal tasks may indicate that someone has early dementia. This usually starts with difficulty doing more complex tasks like balancing a checkbook or playing games that have a lot of rules. Along with the struggle to complete familiar tasks, they may struggle to learn how to do new things or follow new routines.
6. Confusion. Someone in the early stages of dementia may often become confused. When memory, thinking, or judgment lapses, confusion may arise as they can no longer remember faces, find the right words, or interact with people normally. Confusion can occur for a number of reasons. For example, they may misplace their car keys, forget what comes next in the day, or have difficulty remembering someone they’ve met before.
7. Difficulty following storylines. Difficulty following storylines may occur due to early dementia. This is a classic early symptom. Just as finding and using the right words becomes difficult, people with dementia sometimes forget the meanings of words they hear or struggle to follow along with conversations or TV programs.
8. A failing sense of direction. The sense of direction and spatial orientation commonly starts to deteriorate with the onset of dementia such as not recognizing familiar landmarks and forgetting regularly used directions. It also becomes more difficult to follow a series of directions and step-by-step instructions.
9. Being repetitive. Repetition is common in dementia because of memory loss and general behavioral changes. The person may repeat daily tasks, such as shaving, or they may collect items obsessively. They also may repeat the same questions in a conversation after they’ve been answered.
10. Struggling to adapt to change. For someone in the early stages of dementia, the experience can cause fear. Suddenly, they can’t remember people they know or follow what others are saying. They can’t remember why they went to the store, and they get lost on the way home. Because of this, they might crave routine and be afraid to try new experiences. Difficulty adapting to change is also a typical symptom of early dementia.
It’s important to remember that forgetfulness and memory problems don’t automatically point to dementia. These are normal parts of aging and can also occur due to other factors, such as fatigue. Still, you shouldn’t ignore the symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing a number of dementia symptoms that aren’t improving, talk with a doctor. They can refer you to a neurologist who can examine you or your loved one’s physical and mental health and determine whether the symptoms result from dementia or another cognitive problem. The doctor may order:
With treatment and early diagnosis, it may be possible to slow the progression of the disease and maintain mental function. The treatments may include medications, cognitive training, and therapy. It’s important to have a thorough evaluation before deciding that you or a family member have Alzheimer’s Disease. You can learn more by contacting the Alzheimer’s Association and checking to see if there are Memory Clinics or programs in your area.
Source: Adapted from Alzheimer’s Association