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.