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Dementia is a general term for the “impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but there are others, including vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. While dementia is associated with aging, it isn’t a normal part of the aging process, which is why it is a distinct, diagnosable condition. In older adults with non-dementia, their knowledge, old memories and language usually stay intact, whereas these abilities may be impacted in those with dementia.
Below, we explore the early signs of dementia and how to manage the first stages of dementia.
Early Signs of Dementia
Many of the early signs of dementia can be subtle and may often overlap with symptoms of other conditions. After all, everyone loses things or forgets a word occasionally, especially as they age. However, dementia is not a normal sign of aging, and not every older adult will develop dementia. Dementia is usually diagnosed when multiple symptoms are chronically exhibited over time. Some early signs of dementia to watch out for are:
- Increasing confusion – may become disoriented and lose track of where they are in time or space
- Difficulty remembering things, especially recent events or recently learned information
- Reduced concentration and difficulty solving problems, which can impact activities such as paying bills
- Poor judgment and decision making – for instance, they may put on shorts in the wintertime
- Trouble completing daily tasks, such as grocery shopping or driving somewhere familiar
- Visual problems such as incorrectly judging distance or having difficulty determining color and contrast
- Difficulty with speaking or writing, such as having trouble following a conversation or not being able to think of a word
- Frequently misplacing things in strange places, inability to retrace steps to find them
- Paying less attention to grooming and personal hygiene
- Withdrawing from favorite activities or social events
- Experiencing mood and personality changes and becoming easily upset
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Some risk factors that increase the chances of developing dementia include:
- Being over 65 years of age
- Having a family history of dementia
- Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Experiencing traumatic brain injury
- Being African-American or Hispanic
Managing Early Dementia
Managing early signs of dementia is key to giving those affected the best quality of life. Carefully monitor their symptoms and keep their doctor informed of any changes. Your loved one will still likely be able to live either partly or wholly independently at this point, but they will still need check-ins to make sure that critical activities such as paying the bills don’t slip through the cracks. They may need to make smaller lifestyle changes, such as switching to adaptive clothing so they can continue to dress themselves.
Educate both yourself and your loved one about dementia and the progression of symptoms so you can plan for what comes next. We must prepare oursleves for what will eventually happen. For instance, you might not be able to let your loved one manage money after a certain point or you might need to start dressing them in anti-strip Alzheimer’s clothing. Ask your loved one about their preferred living situation once they are no longer able to take care of themselves. Some people want to stay at home no matter what, while others like the idea of a senior living facility where they can be around other people their age.
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Encourage your loved one to take care of making a will and any necessary estate planning before conditions worsen. Clearly and legally expressing their wishes now will save your family a lot of trouble down the road (not to mention some legal fees). While all adults should take care of this regardless of whether or not they have dementia, some older adults may resist the idea of drawing up a will at first.
A dementia diagnosis can be scary, but if properly managed, you and your loved one can experience many years to come of living life to fullest with some minor alterations. Talk to the doctors about their specific diagnosis and how you can work together to manage the condition. Both of you will only benefit by proactively addressing early signs of dementia.
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