How to Determine if Your Elderly Loved One has Dementia

How to Determine if Your Elderly Loved One has Dementia

Watching a parent grow older can be difficult. One of the most trying things about it is figuring out what are the “normal” signs of aging and what are more serious issues. For example, no matter what age, we all experience moments when our memory fails us, such as misplacing our keys.

When an older parent becomes more forgetful, however, the minds of many adult children often go straight to dementia. And for good reason, dementia is one of the leading causes of dependency and mental impairment among the elderly. In the United States, it’s estimated that one out of every six women and one out of every ten men, living past the age of 55 will develop dementia.

The problem becomes trying to decide if your loved one’s lapses in memory is caused by something more serious. Again, while forgetting which day it is can be normal every once in a while, not knowing the season is much more likely to be caused by dementia. Another example would be forgetting a word versus being unable to have a conversation.

If you suspect that your loved one may have dementia, the sooner they see a doctor, the better. While it is true that there is no cure, it can be treated with medications that can help with symptoms.

So what exactly is dementia? The most common cause of dementia in people age 65 and older is Alzheimer’s disease which is caused by damage to brain cells. This damage prevents cells from being able to communicate with each other. People with dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, have a hard time learning new information, no matter how often it is told to them.

In the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, your loved one may tell you that they are experiencing some lapses in memory. As time goes on they will become less aware of their condition.

Not knowing whether or not your aging parent has dementia can feel like a guessing game. While every individual is different, there are some common signs and symptoms of dementia in older adults. These signs fall into two categories: cognitive and psychological. What follows is a list of those symptoms.

Cognitive:

  • Memory loss
  • Trouble finding the right words or difficulty holding a conversation
  • Inability to handle complex tasks, especially those that involve reasoning or problem solving
  • Difficulty making plans or staying organized
  • Loss of coordination or a decline in motor functions
  • Becoming easily confused or disoriented

Psychological:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Changes in personality, including inappropriate behavior
  • Agitation, paranoia and hallucinations

There is no single, definitive diagnostic test for dementia but seeing a doctor as soon as possible is important. Physicians like neurologists, geriatricians and psychiatrists typically use a combination of tests and assessment to diagnose dementia. Even if a diagnosis is not immediately made, the results of these tests can be used as a baseline for comparison against the results of future testing. Therefore, if you suspect your parent may have dementia, do not put off bringing them to a doctor.