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5 Ways the Elderly Hide Signs of Dementia

By Merritt WhitleyJune 3, 2021
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Dementia signs may be subtle in the early stages. Your mom may have trouble recalling certain words, or your dad may forget to pay a few bills. It’s possible they don’t even realize they’re showing signs of dementia — or they may not want you to know.

“For so many years, dementia has been a stigma,” says Brenda Gurung, a certified dementia practitioner for the Alzheimer’s Association and a senior national account manager at A Place for Mom. “But specific dementia diagnoses are diseases — they don’t mean you’re a failure of a person.”

It can be devastating to receive a dementia diagnosis. But getting help sooner rather than later may prevent accidents, financial problems, and other troubling consequences of dementia behaviors in the elderly. Learn ways your loved one may be covering up dementia symptoms and understand steps you can take to help.

Why do the elderly deny signs and symptoms of dementia?

Many people are reluctant to reveal dementia signs in an effort to avoid negative stereotypes, shame, or embarrassment, according to a study of anxiety and stigma in dementia. It’s not uncommon for someone in the early stages of dementia to be in denial, keep it a secret, or drift away socially. This can lead to social isolation, overdependence on family, and decreased quality of life, the researchers write.

Sometimes, behavior that seems like dementia denial or avoidance may actually be a lack of awareness. People with anosognosia — a medical condition defined as lack of insight — don’t realize they have a cognitive impairment. They may be aware of some symptoms without realizing dementia is involved, or their awareness may fluctuate.

How do the elderly hide signs of dementia?

If you notice the following behaviors in your aging parent, they may be covering up dementia symptoms.

1. Refusing to participate in an activity they once loved

The refusal to do a regular chore, play a game they once enjoyed, or try something new could signal early signs of dementia. Your mom or dad may shy away from familiar activities that were once second nature, because they can no longer remember how to do them.

“Someone in the early stages of dementia will exhibit two coping mechanisms when their favorite activity becomes too overwhelming,” says Gurung. “They may turn inward and self-isolate, or point the blame toward others.”

2. Covering up problems

Whether they’re having trouble driving, balancing a checkbook, or interacting with friends and family, it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to simply not talk about incidents or lie when confronted.

A person who’s reluctant to disclose dementia signs may not be the only one in denial or keeping a secret — their partner may cover up signs as well. A spouse may jump in to complete tasks, finish sentences, or make excuses for behavior that’s out of the ordinary.

3. Trying to normalize unusual behavior in conversations

Insisting they’re fine when there’s an obvious problem often points to denial. Comments such as “This is normal forgetfulness for my age,” or “I’m fine — I’m just tired,” are common ways people deflect problems triggered by dementia.

With some dementias, the brain’s frontal lobe is affected early on. This area controls a person’s executive function and filter.

“In conversations, you may notice your loved one isn’t following their train of thought,” Gurung says. “Maybe they monopolize the discussion with topics that are comfortable to them, like old stories or their favorite hobbies. Or they may even make inappropriate comments, jokes, innuendos, or slurs.”

She adds that while the signs can be subtle, your conversations may feel slightly uncomfortable, which can be a sign of dementia behavior.

4. No longer caring about their appearance

Your parent’s actions and appearance may speak louder than words. They may lose interest, feel depressed, or slowly stop taking time for themselves. If your mom loved doing her hair and makeup each day but says she no longer feels like it, she may have stopped caring.

If your dad is skipping showers, or is wearing the same clothes each day without washing them, he may say something like, “It’s easier,” or “I don’t have time.” Changes in your loved one’s appearance and hygiene — or if their personality seems lethargic or apathetic — are common dementia signs that may be downplayed.

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5. Forgetting holidays or important dates

Although it’s normal to occasionally forget an appointment every now and then, it is unusual to forget important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays regularly. Another early sign of dementia is consistently losing track of the date or even the time of year. Your mom may say she’s misplaced her calendar — or your dad may say he can’t find his watch — but beware of these subtle and early signs of dementia.

How can I help my loved one in the early stages of dementia?

Talk about the signs and symptoms of dementia, find professional advice, and plan accordingly. If your parent is having trouble with everyday living and responsibilities, share your concerns with your loved one and make a plan.

  • Track symptoms. Tracking symptoms is beneficial for many reasons, but the sooner you start taking note of little differences in your loved one’s behavior, the sooner you can receive a diagnosis and begin implementing a care plan.
  • Modify communication strategies. By adjusting your methods of communicating, you can help maintain and even build your bond with loved ones who have been diagnosed with dementia.
  • Learn how to manage dementia behaviors. Caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia can be emotionally and physically challenging. Learning how to handle common dementia behaviors equips you with the tools you need to deescalate intense situations and avoid caregiver burnout.
  • Encourage stimulating activitiesSeniors with dementia of any stage benefit from feeling engaged and productive. Finding activities that engage them physically and cognitively are not only soothing for them, but are proven to slow cognitive decline.
  • Plan ahead for care. By proactively discussing care options, such as in-home care and memory care, with physicians and family, you can assure your aging loved one is receiving the level of care necessary to live a comfortable, healthy life.

Sources:

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Dementia.” https://medlineplus.gov/dementia.html

National Institute on Aging. “Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Dementias.” https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/alzheimers

Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/alzheimers-disease/earlyonset-alzheimer-disease

Author
Merritt Whitley

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