A diagnosis of dementia is life-changing, whether it comes for you or a loved one. People often experience denial or fear when they start noticing signs of dementia, but the sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment. If you have an aging parent or family member, it’s important to educate yourself on the early warning signs of dementia and to prepare for what to do next if you recognize these signs in your loved one.
Warning Signs of Dementia
The following symptoms from the Alzheimer’s Association are considered warning signs of dementia if they are consistent and more severe than typical age-related change.
– Memory loss that interferes with daily life.
– Challenges in planning or solving problems.
– Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or in leisure time.
– Confusion of time or place.
– Trouble understanding visual images and special relationships.
– New problems with words in speaking or writing.
– Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.
– Impaired or poor judgment.
– Withdrawal from social activities.
– Changes in mood and personality.
Noticing signs of dementia in a loved one can be scary, but it’s crucial to act quickly and not ignore them. Here’s what to do next.
What to do When You Notice Signs of Dementia
Step One: Start tracking symptoms.
The more comprehensive a picture you can paint for your loved one’s primary care doctor, the better they will be able to rule out other causes and reach a diagnosis.
Step Two: Schedule a doctor’s appointment.
Early detection allows you to start treatment that can help relieve symptoms, slow progression, and maintain a greater degree of independence for longer. Your loved one may also be eligible to participate in cutting-edge clinical trials.
Stage Three: Take time to cope.
Dementia is a life-changing diagnosis. Allow your loved one—and yourself—time to grieve for the life they’d expected and come to terms with their new situation. Do what you can to prevent your loved one from isolating themselves in this time. Social support is more important than ever when we are going through difficult times, so encourage your loved one to retain close contact with friends and family, clergy members, and counselors, perhaps even joining an Alzheimer’s support group.
Step Four: Establish new routines.
Managing dementia requires making lifestyle changes based on the progression of symptoms. There may be activities that your loved one can no longer perform safely on their own, such as driving or cooking. Daily routines will likely require increased planning and family involvement. Allow for a period of adjustment as everyone finds their footing and grows familiar with the new routines.
Step Five: Start planning ahead.
There will come a time when your loved one can no longer safely live alone or independently. It’s impossible to say when that day will come because the disease progresses differently for everyone, but it’s smart to start planning early while your loved one is still able to contribute their thoughts and opinions, thereby preserving their sense of agency in their own care. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but everyone deserves a say in how their end-of-life care is managed.