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Many families have experienced the rollercoaster of emotions watching a loved one slowly start to subside to dementia or Alzheimer's, but it's important to realize that you and your loved ones are not alone.
More than 50 million people worldwide are living with dementia. Ten million more are diagnosed each year, according to the World Health Organization. One in 10 Americans 65 and older has Alzheimer's dementia, according to the Alzheimers Association.
With numbers like these, chances are good you or someone you know will be affected by dementia at some time in your life. Here are 11 signs you should look out for in your aging loved ones.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
The most commonly recognized sign of dementia is memory loss, but it goes beyond simply being forgetful. This type of memory loss makes it difficult to learn new information or remember important dates or events. While most people can remember what they've forgotten later, people with dementia-related memory loss will not and it will disrupt their daily life in numerous ways.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
Deficits in executive functioning is one of the symptoms of dementia. Executive functioning can encompass a wide range of things, but some things it includes are planning and problem-solving. People who have dementia might start having trouble with regular work tasks, trouble problem solving with minor issues, or difficulty planning a schedule. While some memory loss is typical of old age, impairment in problem-solving or with planning is not.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
At some point, people with dementia may have trouble doing tasks they ordinarily do, like using the computer, making coffee, or following their normal routine at work. The Alzheimer's Association warns that these signs are definitely worth mentioning to your loved one's doctor.
4. Confusion with time or place
Forgetting where you are or how to get to or from familiar places is another common early sign of dementia. Over time, it may be dangerous for someone with dementia to go to the grocery store or live on their own.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Visuospatial abilities consist of the ability to understand what we see around us and interpret spatial relationships. According to Very Well Health, dementia can bring in a decline in visuospatial abilities like reading, judging distance, getting dressed, struggling with depth perception, or figuring out colors.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
While it might be silly to hear your loved one call a banana a donut or something other than a banana, repeated incidents of this behavior is troublesome. According to the CDC, if someone replaces a familiar object's name with an unusual word, they might be showing a symptom of dementia.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
People with dementia increasingly put things in odd places, can't find them, and may accuse others of stealing the items. Occasionally misplacing items and retracing your steps to find them is normal, but the inability to retrace your steps is something to take into account.
8. Changes in mood, personality, and judgment
People with dementia can experience a change or loss of mood regulation This is due to damage in vital areas of the brain which can lead to depression, manic-like behaviors, and frequent changes in emotions called emotional lability.
Not only does dementia cause damage to the frontal lobe systems but also can have a loss in the ability to make sound judgments about trivial matters as well as more significant ones.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
Most of us need quiet time every so often. Some people are naturally quieter than others and prefer to watch and listen rather than joining in. However, with dementia, it is important to recognize if there's a change of behavior and withdrawal from work or social activities that they regularly enjoyed participating in.
Another sign of dementia though not as common is hallucinations and is a symptom worth discussing with a healthcare provider.
"The mind often plays tricks on people with dementia as brain cells degenerate," an article for University of Michigan Medicine explained. "Their brains often distort their senses to make them think they are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling or experiencing something that isn't really there."
If you notice your loved one getting upset about events that did not happen, talk with their doctor. In the meantime, the Alzheimer's Association recommends reassuring your loved one and helping them feel safe with phrases like, "Don't worry. I'm here. I'll protect you. I'll take care of you."
11. Difficulty concentrating
Background noise and distracting environments can make it difficult for someone with dementia to concentrate, even if they're in their own home. This can make them frustrated and make conversations difficult.
While there's not much you can do about the concentration problems themselves, you can help make your loved one's environment less stimulating. Reducing distractions and using the person's name often as you speak to him or her can help.
For more information about more additional signs of dementia and support for people and families affected by the disease, visit the Utah Department of Health AgeWell campaign at https://agewell.health.utah.gov/.