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How do you know if your parent has Alzheimer's disease (AD) or dementia? If dad continually forgets where he puts his keys, or mom seems to get easily confused these days, does it mean they have a progressive neurodegerative disease? Not necessarily. Only a doctor can diagnose the condition. Every person experiences different symptoms with different severity, but there are some main warning signs you can look for.

Early Indicators of Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia:

Forgetfulness and Memory Loss

The most common symptom of most types of dementia is memory loss. However, just because Dad cannot remember where he put his shoes or calls the grandkids by the wrong names does not mean he has Alzheimer's. We all forget the details of a conversation from time to time, but early onset of this disease can cause a person to forget entire conversations that took place only moments ago. AD usually affects short-term memory first, meaning the person forgets information that they recently learned. They have trouble remembering important dates and events and they ask for the same information over and over again. They may even lose the ability to recognize their family members.

Lack of Concentration and Increased Confusion

Getting confused about times and places is a common indicator. Your mom or dad may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before. Individuals may forget where they are or how they got there. They might have difficulty understanding that an event happened in the past or will be occurring in the future, versus something that is happening in the present. They can lose track of the seasons and the general passage of time.

Losing Things

A person with AD may begin to put things in increasingly unusual places. Car and house keys tend to elude everyone from time to time, but finding lost keys in the freezer could indicate a more serious problem. They may lose things and be unable to use the simple method of retracing their steps to find the items. This situation can even escalate into accusations of theft when they cannot find a personal belonging that they have unknowingly misplaced. This can lead to paranoia, and they may react by placing their things in even more unusual "hiding spots" to foil the perceived thief.

Difficulty Doing Familiar Tasks

This condition also affects the ability to do normal, everyday tasks. People may have trouble remembering how to drive, cook a favorite recipe, or play a familiar game. They may start relying more on a spouse or family member to do things for them that they once enjoyed doing themselves. Symptoms can affect one's abilities related to vision as well, such as depth perception, judging distance and seeing colors. This can lead to an increase in perceived clumsiness, accidents and other uncharacteristic mishaps.

Language and Speaking Problems

AD affects how sufferers create and process language. They typically have trouble recalling the right words in conversation or while writing. For example, they say "what-cha-ma-call-it" instead of eyeglasses, or call a watch a "hand-clock." This confusion can cause them to stop abruptly in the middle of sentences or conversations as well.

Problems with Simple Math

People in the early stages may have difficulty working with numbers, including simple math problems they have done their entire lives. They may struggle when balancing their checkbook or performing simple addition and subtraction calculations.

Poor Judgment

Look for changes in their decision-making abilities, rational thought processing and judgment skills. A person who has made poor or risky decisions all of their life probably does not have a medical condition causing these behaviors. But dementia could be the culprit in a situation where a once logical decision maker who carefully weighed all the options and made informed decisions suddenly begins exhibiting poor judgment.

Personality Changes and Mood Swings

Individuals might exhibit changes in personality and sudden mood swings. They could become fearful, suspicious, depressed or anxious. A once confident person might become tentative and shy. They may be easily upset at home and in new or public places where they are out of their comfort zone.

Changes in Grooming and Personal Hygiene

Sudden or steadily declining attention to personal care, such as infrequent bathing, wearing the same clothes over and over again, and not their brushing teeth, can point to this disease. If a person kept their home immaculate all their life but suddenly stops cleaning and allows clutter to accumulate, it could be a cause for concern.

Withdrawing from Friends and Family

Finally, withdrawal from social opportunities and activities they once enjoyed can be a red flag. Affected individuals tend to dodge situations where they have to be around others in order to avoid drawing attention to their memory lapses or communication difficulties. They are typically embarrassed by their inability to converse or perform tasks as they once did. Depression related to this change in abilities can also cause withdrawal from social situations.

Doctors will only diagnose dementia only if two or more brain functions, such as memory and language skills, are significantly impaired without loss of consciousness. If you think someone you love may have Alzheimer's disease, contact your doctor immediately.

For information on memory care, contact Spring Arbor.


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Alzheimer’s disease is challenging for everyone; for the person diagnosed and for the loved ones who will be caring for them. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is difficult, but with knowledge and support you can better navigate and determine eventual Alzheimer’s care options.

Early stage Alzheimer’s care preparations

It is better to do some Alzheimer’s care preparations sooner rather than later. At first, it may be hard to consider these questions because it means you have to think about your loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. But being prepared early provides a smoother transition for everyone. Include the person with Alzheimer’s in the decision-making process as much as possible or at least try to act on what their wishes would be.

Questions to consider in preparing for Alzheimer’s and dementia care:

Who will make healthcare and/or financial decisions when the person is no longer able to do so? If your loved one is still lucid enough, getting their wishes down on paper means they’ll be preserved and respected by all members of the family. Consider meeting with an elder law attorney to best understand your options. You’ll want to consider power of attorney, both for finances and for healthcare. If the person has already lost capacity, you may need to apply for guardianship/conservatorship.

How will care needs be met? Sometimes other family members assume that a spouse or nearest family member can take on caregiving, but that is not always the case. Caregiving becomes more challenging over time. The person will eventually need round-the-clock care. Communication is essential to make sure that the needs of the Alzheimer’s patient are met, and that the caregiver has the support to meet those needs.

Where will the person live? Is their home appropriate, or is it difficult to access or make safe for later? If the person is currently living alone or far from any family or other support, it may be necessary to relocate or consider a facility with more support.

For more information on Alzheimer’s care facilities, contact Spring Arbor in Richmond, VA.


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