What are the 11 Signs of Dementia?

We are very fortunate to live in a time of medical advancements, especially in regards to elder care.  People are living longer lives.  The dark side of an increased life span is the many adverse effects of the aging brain.  If you have known very many elderly people, the chances are high that you have known someone with dementia.

Not everyone who has the opportunity to become elderly gets dementia.  Many people stay mentally clear all of their life.  For those who suffer from some form of dementia, there are many causes.  I’m not a medical doctor or research scientist.  My experience with dementia has been up front and personal.  Both of my parents have dementia.  My mother has Alzheimer’s and my father has another form of dementia.

Dementia is a puzzling thing.  It can come on slow.  In the case of my Mom’s Alzheimer’s, it took years to progress to the stage where she couldn’t live independently and needed constant care.  My Dad’s case of dementia was also a slow process.  But, for a dear friend of ours who has the same type of dementia as my father, the loss of cognitive abilities was rapid and crippling to his ability to function.

When we see our elderly loved ones often, we may not notice the changes as clearly as someone who doesn’t see them on a day to day basis.  We may notice small changes and chock it up to their advancement in age.  How do we recognize the signs of dementia?

Here are 11 signs to watch out for:

1.  Recent memory loss.  Everyone forgets things, but remembers it later.  Dementia patients often forget things and never remember them.  They might ask the same question over and over again, forgetting they had asked before.  Memory loss is more severe than just forgetting where the keys were left or where they left the mail.

2.  Difficulty performing familiar tasks.  They may forget how to do something they have done many times before.  They may, also, do something familiar, but forget in the middle of doing the task that they are doing it and walk away and start something else.  For example, cooking a meal.  They could walk away in the middle of it and it burns , or they could forget to put it on the table to serve it.

3.  Problems with language.  People with dementia may forget simple words or use the wrong words, making it hard to understand what they want.  My Dad has his own language at times.  He uses words that don’t fit in the concept he is trying to communicate.  By listening very carefully, I can discern what he is trying to say.

4.  Time and place disorientation.  Someone suffering from dementia may bet lost in familiar settings.  They could go for a walk or a drive and become disoriented and forget how to get home.  This, also, applies to time.  They can become disoriented on time and forget that a person has passed on.  They talk about the person as if they are still living.  They may even wonder where their deceased person has gone, or get angry because they feel the person has gone away from them and aren’t where they think they should be.  Sometimes, they can seem to be lost in another time period of their life.

5.  Problems with abstract thinking.  Any body could have trouble, as they age, in balancing their check book.  Dementia patients can forget what numbers are and how to use them.  They can forget how to pay their bills, screw in a light bulb, how to open a package of crackers, etc.

6.  Misplacing things.  Someone with dementia may put things in the wrong places – an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.  They can’t find them later when they are looking for them. They may even feel like these items have been hidden from them by others.

7.  Changes in moods and mood swings.  Most people get moody occasionally, but someone with dementia may have rapid mood swings, going from calm, to tears, to anger, in just minutes.

8.  Personality changes.  People with dementia may have drastic changes in personality, often becoming irritable, suspicious, fearful, or paranoid.  A person who is usually friendly and amiable can become angry and cranky.  Someone who has always been chronically crabby can change and get nice and amiable.

9.  Loss of initiative.  Someone with dementia can become passive and withdrawn.  They may not want to go places and interact with people.  Often times, they may seem to walled off from others.  Some of the things they liked to do in the past don’t appeal to them anymore.  Activities they enjoyed in the past no longer have any draw for them.

10.  Poor judgement.  They don’t have the ability to decide what is a good thing to do and what is not.  They make poor judgement decisions.  This is critical when they are behind the wheel or any other potentially dangerous activity. For example, my Dad’s poor judgement led him to standing in a rocking chair in the dark trying to change a light bulb.  Before dementia, he would not have done something that unsafe.

11.  Inappropriate behavior.  This can also translate to inappropriate sexual behavior.  Many times, a dementia patient will do things which are so foreign to their usual behavior.  They don’t know the are acting in a way that is social unacceptable.

Dementia can be a very upsetting thing for the patient and their families.  It’s important to stay loving and understanding with them as they can be confused by their behavior also.  It is important to be vigilant and know when it’s time to bring in extra help for them, or they may not be able to stay in an independent living situation.

My advice is to seek out help from their physician.  The doctor will be able to help with your questions.  The doctor can also give them a cognitive test and refer them to a neurologist for further testing.

Many senior citizens fear this change in their aging brain.  It’s important for the caregivers and family to handle this with love and understanding and not judgement or condemnation. As Betty Davis said, “Old age is no place for sissies.” 

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3 Responses to “What are the 11 Signs of Dementia?”

  1. Britany says:

    I helped move my mom from a one beoodrm independent apartment in a residential care facility to a studio apartment. Mom is running out of money and I quickly. No one really anticipated this. The good news is that she has remained independent longer than we thought. (Mom has Parkinsons and a long term care policy that will kick in when she needs assisted living.) The bad news is that she will probably run out of money before she needs the care. I am exhausted and living in a fog. My sister is helping her unpack and settle in this weekend. She flew in from CA leaving her husband and two young girls who start school on Monday. I don’t think she will get everything done with mom because mom will have to get rid of at least 50% more stuff to really make the small space work. I dread dealing with the left overs when she leaves. Mom has Parkinsons and needs more and more help. I thought I was in the thick of things 8 years ago when she was diagnosed and she moved from her condo. Now I realize that it is really just being for me. The last years of a move, multiple falls, emergency room visits, managing multiple medications well that is seeming easy now. I am not looking forward to the next stage. I am not looking forward to aging myself.

    • Nan McAdam says:

      My heart goes out to you. I know what you are going through. Caring for our beloved aging parent can be frustrating and frightening. If your Mom is retirement age and living on social security, there are agencies who can help you find some home care for little and perhaps no extra money. I don’t know if you’re going to the doctor with her or not, but her Parkinson’s doctor should be a great resource as he/she probably deals with medicare patients. Keep in mind that the doctor won’t discuss your mother or her condition unless she has put you on her medical records as someone they can talk with due to privacy laws. The doctor will be the one who writes a referral for any services to help her. These services could be some light housekeeping, bathing, etc. Check into her long term care policy if you haven’t already. Sometimes, they will cover some services in the home before she needs assisted living. Long term care companies want to keep their policy holders in the home as long as possible so they don’t have to pay for assisted living or a full care facility. It sounds like your sister is involved in your mom’s care even though she lives far away. That can be a comfort for both of you. Take it one step at a time. Try not to fear your own aging. You don’t have to have the same issues as your Mom, health wise. Your experiences with her will help you in your own aging process and how to plan for the future. There are some wonderful forums on the internet where you can find other people going through similar situations as you are. Remember to take care of yourself first. You won’t be any help to Mom if you are sick or depressed yourself. Good luck to you!

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