No one knows your parents’ personalities, hobbies, or quirks like you do. So if you notice unusual behavior — or experience a persistent feeling that something is off — there’s a good chance 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.
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.
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If your mom is consistently losing track of her thoughts mid-sentence, or if your dad has trouble finding words in casual conversations, these are dementia signs to note.
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 diminishing, as these are common behaviors of dementia.
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? 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 it down and talk to your parent’s doctor.
Reoccurring 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 stopped pursuing or lost interest in their favorite hobbies? 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.
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 professional.
Include details about:
It’s important to find professional help after noticing early symptoms of dementia.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.