Many adult children are finally seeing their parents in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis. While it is a comfort to spend time together, you might notice changes in a parent’s behavior that was not apparent on the phone or Zoom. Could this be a sign of cognitive decline? What are the early signs of dementia?
Dementia can diminish focus, the ability to pay attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. It can make it hard for a senior to control his or her emotions and lead to personality changes, says AARP’s recent article entitled “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore.”
The article provides some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:
- Difficulty with everyday tasks. Those with dementia may find it increasingly tough to do things, like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking. They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them, or have difficulty completing them.
- Repetition. Asking a question, hearing the answer, then repeating the same question a few minutes later, or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times, are causes for concern.
- Communication issues. See if a senior has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought, or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
- Getting lost. Those with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities.
- Changes in personality. A senior who starts acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious; becomes upset easily; or loses interest in activities and appears depressed is cause for concern.
- Confusion about time and place. Those who forget where they are or can’t remember how they got there should raise a red flag. You should also be concerned if a person becomes disoriented about time (asking on a Friday if it is Monday or Tuesday).
- Troubling behavior. If a senior appears to have greater poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, it’s a concern.
Here are some of the methods that doctors use to diagnose early signs of dementia:
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests assess language and math skills, memory, problem-solving and other kinds of mental functioning.
- Lab tests can help rule out non-dementia causes for the symptoms.
- Brain scans like a CT, MRI, or PET imaging can detect changes in brain structure and function. They can identify strokes, tumors and other problems that can cause dementia.
- Psychiatric evaluation can determine if a mental health condition is causing or impacting symptoms.
- Genetic tests are critical, especially if someone is showing symptoms before age 60. The early onset form of Alzheimer’s is strongly associated with a person’s genes.
Stay aware of these early signs of dementia and make a plan for addressing your parent’s needs as they decline. Work with an Elder Law attorney to learn what you can do to ensure your loved ones are cared for in their later years.
If you would like to learn more about dementia and other cognitive issues, please visit our previous posts.
Reference: AARP (May 4, 2021) “7 Early Warning Signs of Dementia You Shouldn’t Ignore”