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Elderly woman with early dementia symptoms looks out the window

Do You Suspect Your Loved One Has Dementia? Here’s What to Do

Written by Merritt Whitley
 about the author
11 minute readLast updated September 13, 2022

No one knows your parents’ personalities, hobbies, or quirks like you do. So, if you often feel that their behavior is off, there’s a good chance that it is. As we age, our risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia increases notably. In fact, the risk doubles every five years in people 65 and older.{{citation:1}}

Key Takeaways

  1. Elderly people face an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. And it doubles every 5 years after age 65.
  2. Our quiz will help you determine whether your loved one is experiencing dementia. By answering a few question, you'll have deeper insight into your loved one's condition.
  3. Tracking signs of cognitive decline is important. Monitoring symptoms of agitation, wandering, and incontinence, can help your loved one’s doctor in assessing their condition.
  4. Talk to an expert. Planning for future care can help to ensure that your loved one has the support they need at every stage.

Seeing a loved one’s condition progress can make you feel powerless. Before you give up hope, there’s still a lot you can do to help your mom or dad get dementia treatment and support. Learning to spot key dementia symptoms in aging parents and documenting the early stages of dementia can make a big difference.[02] Your observations could provide helpful insight to doctors, which can lead to a quicker and more accurate diagnosis.

Read on for guidance in tracking dementia behaviors and additional steps you can take.

Does my parent have dementia? A self-guided quiz

Signs of dementia can vary and even be tough to spot because the elderly sometimes hide their dementia symptoms. Our quiz can help you answer, “Does my mom or dad have dementia?” If your loved one matches many of the behaviors below, they may have dementia.

8 behaviors that could indicate dementia

1. Difficulty remembering or trouble finding words

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.

2. Inability to learn something new

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.

3. Struggling to manage finances

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.

4. Unable to keep track of time

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.

5. Poor judgment and decision making

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 them down and talk to your parent’s doctor.

6. Problems remembering commitments

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:

  • Dentist or doctor’s appointments
  • Dinner plans with friends or family
  • Car maintenance appointments

7. Loss of interest in favorite activities

Has your loved one lost interest in or stopped pursuing 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.

8. Repetition

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.

Physical signs of dementia in elderly relatives

What do you do if you suspect that someone in your family has dementia, but your answers to the behaviors above seem to fall in the middle? While it may be hard to distinguish between dementia symptoms and ordinary aging [03], 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. There are several additional warning behaviors to look for:

  • Agitation. Mood changes that include confusion, irritability, depression, or anxiety are common in people with dementia. Your parent may become easily upset in different or new situations.
  • Wandering. People with dementia sometimes get lost in familiar places or walk aimlessly. Dementia wandering can happen for many reasons, including fear, anxiety, boredom, or an urge to follow past routines.
  • Picking. If an elderly relative picks at the air in front of them or makes repetitive movements like opening and closing containers or switching the TV on and off, this could be a dementia symptom.
  • Sleep problems. Insomnia and sundown syndrome are common problems in people with dementia. Your parent may have problems falling asleep, or they may wake up several times throughout the night. They may also feel more restless at the end of the day — this is called sundowning. Doctors believe sundowning can be triggered by exhaustion, excitement, or changes in the biological clocks of people with dementia. Managing sleep is an important aspect of taking care of elderly parents with dementia.
  • Eating problems. Your parent may forget to eat or drink. Medications to treat dementia symptoms can also affect your loved one’s appetite or interfere with food taste. Ensuring your loved one with dementia gets adequate fluids and nutrition can be a challenge.
  • Incontinence. As dementia progresses, your loved one may lose bladder and bowel control. Changes in environment may also lead to accidents because someone with dementia may not be able to find the bathroom or get there in time.

If, after cataloguing 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.

Document and share dementia behaviors with a doctor

If you think that your loved one has dementia, keep a record of the symptoms. 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 about your parent with their health professional.[04] However, their doctor won’t be able to share a medical diagnosis with you without HIPAA authorization from your parent.

Include details about:

  • When you first noticed dementia behavior
  • Specific dementia symptoms your parents show
  • How often they struggle and when it happens
  • Changes in their normal routine or behavior

How to get help for your parent’s dementia symptoms

It’s important to find professional help after noticing early symptoms of dementia.

  • Find the right doctor. Doctors who specialize in dementia will ask about problems related to common dementia behaviors. You should look for a physician whose specialty is geriatrics, neurology, or clinical psychiatry, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.[05]
  • Communicate observations in detail. The more details you can share regarding warning signs of dementia, the easier it can be for a doctor to determine the cause and tests needed for a diagnosis. The doctor can also develop more effective treatment options for dementia symptoms based on the specificity of the data collected.
  • Prepare for a diagnosis. A dementia diagnosis is determined through a series of steps. There are many different possible tests to rule out other health conditions like vitamin B12 deficiency, brain tumors, thyroid conditions, and more, as some of these conditions also may cause dementia symptoms. A dementia evaluation can include:
    • Reviewing a person’s medical history
    • Physical or mental exam
    • Lab tests
    • Brain imaging[06]
  • Stay proactive. Continue to observe and take notes so you and your mom or dad’s medical professionals can determine the best care and treatment options.
  • Plan for the future. For more resources and information on caring for a loved one with dementia, download A Place for Mom’s Dementia Care Guide, or reach out to a Senior Living Advisor. In addition to memory care resources, a Senior Living Advisor can help you find in-home care support and other options.
  1. National Institute on Aging. (2019, December 24). What causes Alzheimer’s disease?

  2. Social Care Institute for Excellence. (2020, October). Why early diagnosis of dementia is important.

  3. National Institute on Aging. (2020, October 21). Memory, forgetfulness, and aging: What’s normal and what’s not?

  4. Office for Civil Rights. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2022, January 19). Your rights under HIPAA.

  5. Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (2014, August 27). Finding a doctor.

  6. United Kingdom National Health Service. (2020, July 3). Tests for diagnosing dementia.

Meet the Author
Merritt Whitley

Merritt Whitley is a creative copywriter at A Place for Mom. She has written for senior audiences for about six years and specializes in health, finance, and lifestyle content. Merritt has managed multiple print publications, social media channels, and blogs. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University, where she focused on journalism, advertising, and public relations.

Edited by

Jordan Kimbrell

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