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Your Health

How to Spot Dementia Warning Signs

Early memory loss is often accompanied by a number of indicators. Do you know what to look for?

It’s normal to forget the right word for something from time to time, or to flub an otherwise routine task. We all have times when tiredness, distraction or stress cause us to function at less than our peak. But there are signs to watch out for — especially in aging loved ones — that may indicate dementia.

Dementia is an umbrella term that includes memory loss, confusion, declining problem-solving and judgment skills, and language deficits. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, head injuries, depression, infections, adverse medication interactions, depression and more can cause dementia. Some of these are reversible, and some are not.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Memory loss that disrupts everyday life is not part of the normal aging process. It is a symptom of dementia, a gradual and progressive decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a disorder that results in the loss of brain cells.”

Here are 10 warning signs to look for if a loved one appears to be losing the ability to remember, reason and function normally:

» Memory Loss — Those with dementia will forget recently learned information, indicating a loss of short-term memory.

» Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks — A person with dementia may not know the steps for simple tasks that are so familiar we normally do them without thinking, such as preparing a meal, operating a household appliance, or practicing a lifelong hobby.

» Problems With Language — Someone with dementia often forgets simple words or substitutes unusual words, making his or her speech or writing difficult to understand.

» Disorientation To Time and Place — People with dementia may become lost on their own street or while performing a familiar errand, forgetting how they got there and how to get home.

» Poor Or Decreased Judgment — Those with dementia may dress without regard to the weather, wearing too much or too little clothing. They may also show poor judgment about money, giving away large amounts to solicitors or paying for home repairs or products they don’t need.

» Problems With Abstract Thinking — Balancing a checkbook is sometimes challenging for any of us, but someone with dementia could forget completely what the numbers mean and what needs to be done with them.

» Misplacing Things — Of course, we all lose things from time to time, but a person with dementia may put things in unreasonable places: a sandwich under the sofa or a wristwatch in the freezer, for instance.

» Changes In Mood Or Behavior — People with dementia often exhibit rapid mood swings, from calm to tears to anger, for no apparent reason.

» Changes In Personality — It is not unusual for a person with dementia to become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful, or dependent on a family member.

» Loss of Initiative — Those with dementia may become very passive, sitting in front of the television for hours, sleeping more than usual, or not wanting to do usual activities.

If you recognize several of these signs in yourself or a loved one, consult a physician. Early diagnosis of dementia, and the underlying cause, is a crucial step in getting the right treatment, care and support services.

It is important that those with dementia not be left alone, as they may wander away from home and become lost or hurt themselves or others with careless practices, such as leaving the gas on after cooking something on the stove.

Click here for more resources and information about the Friendship Center, 89 Eucalyptus Lane. Located in a beautiful corner of Montecito near Miramar Beach, Friendship Center is a resource for family caregivers who need affordable, compassionate and nurturing supervision for their loved one during the day. In addition to providing lively activities and vital socialization for dependent adults with dementia, adult day services are a low-cost alternative to long-term residential care facilities and in-home care. Meals, transportation and enrichment activities are included in Friendship Center’s services. To take a tour of Friendship Center, call 805.969.0859.

— Justine Sutton is grants/development coordinator at Friendship Center.

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