Living With Dementia

Is your loved one living with the early signs of dementia?

As we age, the lapses in memory that we ourselves may experience or observe in our loved ones, become more concerning.  They make us question if this is part of the normal, healthy aging process or if it is an early sign of dementia.  So how can we tell when it might be time to talk to a health care professional about memory loss?  The following are some early signs of cognitive decline that you can look for in your aging loved one. It is important to know these signs, because early detection is advantageous for prompt diagnosis and slowing disease progression. Note that seeing one of these signs does not necessarily mean a diagnosis of dementia. However if you see several, it may mean your loved one needs to talk with their health care professional.

  1. Memory loss – This is the most common early sign of dementia.  Your loved one may forget faces, information they just learned, or important events that have happened.  They may be consistently losing their car keys and you may find that they are increasingly relying on post-it notes and reminders to remember and complete tasks. 
  2. Vision problems – One of the earliest signs of dementia is changes in vision.  Your loved one may have trouble reading, or correctly identifying the colour of items.  They may have trouble judging distances such as when navigating between a table and chair or when putting items onto a shelf. These difficulties might also contribute to a decrease in their ability to drive.
  3. Problems managing money – Another common early sign of dementia is being unable to manage money.  This task comprises many skills such as reasoning, calculating, and planning.  Your loved one may no longer be able to keep track of the money they have spent.  They may purchase an item multiple times because they do not remember previously buying it.  They may end up with many overdue bills because they have forgotten to pay them.   
  4. Speaking or writing problems – You may find that your loved one begins to have trouble following conversations.  They may stop in the middle of a sentence and not know how to proceed and have trouble finding the right words when they do. They may begin to repeat sentences during a conversation or even ask the same question multiple times within a conversation. Their handwriting may become less legible and there may be increased spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. 
  5. Social withdrawal – Your loved one may stop attending work or other social activities because they are feeling uneasy not knowing how to act around others. They may feel embarrassed during conversations if they realize they are making mistakes. Being in a group with many people and increased noise may increase this unease, as they are unable to follow the conversations going on around them.  These problems may contribute to them not wanting to spend time with family and friends. 
  6. Changes in mood and personality – You may see that your loved one has a sudden change in their personality.  Someone who is shy may become very outgoing. They may also experience mood swings or become irritable, depressed or anxious.  
  7. Poor judgement – Your loved one may no longer understand what is typically appropriate and blurt out whatever comes to mind. They may ask strangers for odd items, or tell them personal information. They may also pay less attention to keeping themselves clean; leave the house in their pyjamas instead of getting dressed.  They may no longer understand how to dress appropriately according to the weather.     
  8. The past, present and future are blurred – Your loved one may only be able to focus and understand what is going on in the immediate present.  They may forget what or if they ate that day or who has been to visit them. They may be able to remember an event that occurred in their childhood but forget where they parked the car.  You may find your loved one tending to their garden but not realizing that it is winter.
  9. Getting lost – Your loved one may no longer remember common routes to stores or relatives’ houses. This can lead to minor traffic accidents and unsafe driving such as running stop signs. Familiar landmarks may become unrecognizable to them. They may have a poor sense of direction and their spatial orientation may deteriorate. 
  10. Inability to focus – Your loved one may start a task and then not be able to finish it. The dishwasher may be half-empty or they could forget to change the clothes from the washer into the dryer for many days.  They may not be able to follow a recipe or get lost with the plot of a movie. They may put their car keys in an odd spot, such as a flowerpot and then lose them. They may become increasingly confused as their ability to focus deteriorates.