No one knows your parents’ personalities, hobbies, or quirks like you do. So if you persistently feel that their behavior is off, there’s a good chance that it is. Aging is a well-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In fact, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years in people 65 and older. Learning to spot key dementia symptoms in aging parents and documenting the early stages of dementia can make a big difference. Your observations could provide helpful insight to doctors, which can lead to a quicker and more accurate diagnosis. Discover eight dementia behaviors to track and how to get a diagnosis and treatment.
Signs of dementia can vary, and even be tough to spot, especially if you aren’t sure what to look for. If you find yourself answering “yes” a lot on this quiz, your parent may be experiencing dementia. Keep in mind that people with dementia may only show some, not all of, the symptoms below.
Is your parent often tongue-tied? It’s normal for older adults to have lapses in thought here and there. But showing signs of forgetfulness every day is an early warning sign of dementia.
If your mom is frequently losing track of her thoughts mid-sentence, or if your dad has trouble finding words in casual conversations, these are dementia signs to note.
Is your mom or dad struggling to absorb and retain new information? Is trying a new activity unusually difficult?
If your mom’s favorite activity is cooking, but she’s struggling to use a new appliance or follow a new recipe, dementia may be the culprit. If you notice your parents avoiding new activities or struggling to grasp a new concept, note it.
Do you notice your dad failing to properly manage bills or taxes? Does your mom struggle to balance her checkbook? Watch for bills piling up or other problem-solving skills declining, as these are common behaviors of dementia.
Is your loved one having a hard time remembering what day it is? Are they losing track of time on an even larger scale?
If your elderly parent continues to forget the day, month, year, holidays, or other important dates, this is a red flag. Write down what they forget and how often the lapses occur.
Have you noticed any behaviors or situations that seem out of the ordinary, like paranoia or recklessness? For example, has your mom been spending more money than normal? Has your dad stopped wearing his seat belt? If you begin to notice dangerous behavior or unsafe habits, write them down and talk to your parent’s doctor.
Is your mom missing obligations or forgetting plans? Recurring memory loss is an early sign of dementia. Everyone forgets something occasionally, but if it happens regularly, be sure to document when and how often.
For example, take note if your parents regularly forget:
Has your loved one lost interest in or stopped pursuing their favorite hobbies or engaging in social situations? Does your dad no longer attend his morning coffee group? Did your mom read or garden daily but no longer makes an effort? Pay attention to unusual behavior especially if it doesn’t seem related to a physical health problem.
Have you noticed verbal repetition in your parent’s thoughts or phrases? It can be as simple as saying the same compliment over and over, such as, “I really love those picture frames you gave me.”
If your parent repeats stories, questions, thoughts, or jokes daily, or every other day, be sure to note the frequency.
Read more:What Do Dementia Patients Think About?
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Perhaps you suspect that someone in your family has dementia, but your answers to the questions above seem to fall in the middle. While it may be hard to distinguish between dementia symptoms and ordinary aging, dementia typically comes with cumulative cognitive decline.
In addition to the eight major dementia symptoms above, many seniors will exhibit physical signs of this cognitive decline. Although you typically can’t tell if a person has dementia just by looking at them, you can keep an eye out for the following warning behaviors. Not everyone with dementia will show all the signs and symptoms listed below, but if you notice a pattern, it may be time to talk to a doctor.
If, after cataloging their symptoms, you suspect your loved one has dementia, there are a few proactive steps you can take. Read on for tips on tracking symptoms and seeking support from medical professionals.
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If you suspect that your loved one has dementia, document and share dementia behaviors with a doctor. Keep a record of the symptoms, and track signs of dementia using your phone or a journal. It’s important to share specific examples with a doctor.
If you’re worried about upsetting a loved one, submit your observations to their physician privately in writing. Keep in mind that HIPAA authorization is not needed for you to share concerns with a parent’s health care professional.
Include details about:
In most cases, you should tell your loved one they have dementia as it’s in their best interest to know what’s going on with their health. Chances are, they’ll already realize something’s wrong. You can have the discussion with them yourself, but it’s generally best to have a physician explain their diagnosis, according to Harvard Health. They’ll be able to provide professional answers to any questions and may offer further guidance on how to manage the condition.
It’s important to remember that if your loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, they do have the right not to know about it if that’s their clear preference. However, 92% of people with Alzheimer’s have indicated they’d like to know the honest truth, according to the Western Journal of Medicine. And, 98% of family caregivers and 84% of dementia patients even found it helpful to share and discuss the dementia diagnosis together.
It’s important to find professional help after noticing early symptoms of dementia.
Marzanski, M. (2000, November). On telling the truth to patients with dementia. Western Journal of Medicine.
Marshall, G., & LeWine, H. E. (2022, February 2). What should you tell someone who has Alzheimer’s disease? Harvard Health.
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