How Caregivers for Seniors Can Spot Early Signs of Dementia

In older adults, the latter stages of dementia can be obvious. Severe memory loss, inability to communicate, and rapid mood swings are reliable indicators of this stressful condition. But do you know how to recognize the early warning signs? Your loved one’s well-being may depend on it. That’s because treatment and management of the disease often hinge on early identification. Although there are no known cures for dementia, there are medications and interventions that can slow its progression.
Caregivers for seniors are often on the frontline when it comes to spotting problems. Read on to see how they can help keep an eye out for symptoms that may spell trouble down the line so you can get your loved one the early and preventative treatment they need.

Signs of Early Dementia

We often think of dementia solely as a disease that affects memory. Unfortunately, dementia can come with a host of other symptoms, many of which aren’t caught early on. Or, if they are caught, they’re mistaken for other things like emotional or psychological problems that bear no relation to dementia. If you’re a caregiver for an older adult – either by profession or as a family member – pay special attention if an older adult exhibits the following:

Difficulty performing once-familiar tasks

For numerous types of dementia, difficulty performing once-familiar tasks is a hallmark of the early stages of development. The warning sign could include anything from forgetting how to do things around the house (such as vacuuming), having difficulty driving to and from familiar locations (or forgetting how to drive at all) or not knowing how to engage in activities they have enjoyed for years. Obviously, older adults will forget things from time to time (in fact, we all do!) But, if you notice that these lapses in memory are happening more than usual, it may be a dementia-related red flag.

Finding things in strange places

Everyone has a few strange places they like to put things. Many people grew up believing that batteries should be stored in the refrigerator! However, if you notice an older adult starting to develop really strange storage habits (like putting the TV remote in the freezer or clothing in the bathtub), it may be an early indicator of dementia. Note that while misplacing items isn’t uncommon, frequently finding them in areas they shouldn’t be is a cause for concern.

Repetitive or compulsive behavior

It will come as no surprise that the majority of people have habits, like putting on their clothes in a certain order, or doing chores a certain way. But the early stages of dementia can lead to habits that don’t make sense, such as hoarding items, or completing tasks in a specific, unnecessary order. When the person feels emotionally unsettled if these habits aren’t followed to the letter, we call the behavior “compulsive.” If an older adult is exhibiting compulsive behavior, it might be cause for worry.

Indifference towards social mores

Social mores, such as respecting personal space and keeping private functions private, are an important part of the fabric of our social lives. But early-stage dementia patients often don’t realize when they break these rules. This can lead to uncomfortable situations – and even legal consequences. If you or your loved one’s caregiver are finding yourself dealing with an increasing number of these situations, it might be time to seek treatment.

Inability to recognize sarcasm

The inability to recognize sarcasm can actually be an early sign of dementia. Sarcasm is an ingrained part of speech throughout most of the United States. Responding appropriately to sarcasm requires a higher level of cognitive function than ordinary speech, since recognizing it involves picking up on cues that involve tone or concepts such as irony. Dementia that affects the frontotemporal part of the brain can cause cognitive decline, making it difficult to determine whether speech is sarcastic.

Early dementia treatment often depends on caregivers for seniors

Early recognition and treatment of dementia can help older adults and their loved ones begin coping with the condition right away. Sometimes, this means starting medication. Other times, it may mean hiring professional caregivers, or increasing the amount of care that’s already being given. But whatever you choose to do, getting a head start on managing the disease will give you more quality time with your loved one – and it’s never too early to do that!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging are here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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Three and a half years ago, Maggie Fang started her journey as an Assessment Specialist in the Support at Home Program at IOA. Her excellent people skills enabled her to manage a caseload of older adults and individuals with disabilities, helping them receive homecare to age in place. Maggie was selected to pioneer the Temporary Respite Caregiver Support program, and we are delighted to have such a skilled and dedicated individual leading our newest program at IOA. Thank you, Maggie, for your exceptional work! 

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Join us at the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center as Caregiver Coach Alex shares with us the incredible support and care provided to participants living with dementia. Clients enjoy various engaging activities, from music therapy to art classes, designed to stimulate their cognitive and physical abilities. The skilled staff at the Enrichment Center also provides caregivers with much-needed support and respite, allowing them to take a break and attend to their needs. If you or someone you know is looking for support in caring for a loved one with dementia, the Adult Day Program at the Enrichment Center in the Presidio is an excellent resource for you! 

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At Insitute on Aging, we are committed to attracting and retaining top talent, and we are incredibly fortunate to have Manuel Martinez on our team. With his extensive expertise in housing and community resources, Manuel has been an invaluable asset to our organization. Recently, he was promoted to the role of Assessment Specialist II in our Adults with Disabilities - Home Delivered Meals program. In addition to managing a caseload, Manuel has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills and has become an expert in program management. We are grateful for Manuel's unwavering commitment to IOA and the community we serve. Thank you, Manuel, for your dedication and passion in making a difference in the lives of others. 
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Patty has dedicated her career and volunteer efforts to support older adults and adults with disabilities in San Francisco. As the Resident Services Coordinator for Institute on Aging's Support in Independent Living program, Patty wears many hats to ensure that the 120+ residents of Martin Luther Towers Senior Housing can age in place comfortably. Her talent for connecting individuals with resources has enabled her to go above and beyond to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for all. Patty's commitment to her work has been unwavering, and we are grateful to have her on our team at IOA. 

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