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8 Dementia Symptoms to Track in Elderly Parents

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleyAugust 8, 2020

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.

Early signs of dementia in the elderly

1. Difficulty remembering or trouble finding words

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.

2. Inability to learn something new

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 diminishing, as these are common behaviors of dementia.

4. Losing track of time

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 it down and talk to your parent’s doctor.

6. Problems remembering commitments

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:

  • Dentist or doctor’s appointments
  • Dinner plans with friends or family
  • Maintenance appointments for the car

7. Losing interest in favorite activities

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.

8. Repeating themselves

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. 

Document and share dementia behaviors with a doctor

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:

  • 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 parents’ dementia symptoms

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

  1. Find the right doctor. Doctors specializing 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare for a diagnosis. Dementia diagnoses are 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
  1. Stay proactive. Continue to observe and take notes to help you and medical professionals determine the best care and treatment options for your mom or dad.
Merritt Whitley
Author
Merritt Whitley

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.

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