It can be difficult to decipher the difference between natural memory loss due to aging and the signs and symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. How are you supposed to know if the behaviors you are seeing in an aging loved one are normal, or the early signs of cognitive decline?
We all know that memory loss is a constant thread in aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s, but there are others. One symptom doesn’t necessarily mean that dementia is beginning to occur. However, several may mean that your loved one needs to be seen by a neurologist. Here is a list of the top five early signs of dementia. Some may surprise you.
1. Vision problems: For some, one of the earliest signs of dementia is changes in vision. Your loved one may have trouble reading or seeing the differences in color or contrast. He or she may also begin to experience trouble judging distances which may lead to problems driving. You may see that your loved one is struggling to resolve spatial relationships of various types – the distance between the table and the chair, or the distance between holding a glass and putting it on the shelf.
2. Problems with words in speaking or writing: In the early stages of dementia it begins to be difficult for the sufferer to follow conversations. You may observe your loved one stopping in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue. They may struggle to find the right words. We all forget words from time to time and eventually remember them. People with dementia cannot retrieve the word even after trying for a time. Your loved one may also begin to repeat sentences within a conversation or say the same thing repeatedly in a short period of time.
3. Poor judgment: Dementia changes and decreases one’s ability to make good judgments. Your loved one may ask strangers for odd things like a tissue or a quarter. They may begin to give money to telemarketers or pay less attention to personal grooming.
4. Forgetting the seasons: If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, he or she may not be able to remember what day, date or season it is. People with dementia may think they are in a different year; one sometime in the past. They may begin to lose the ability to understand that something happened “yesterday” or will happen “tomorrow”. Time begins to shrink and dementia patients only understand what is happening in the here and now. This confusion can extend to an understanding of place. For example, your loved one may be sitting in your living room, but he or she may think they are in another place entirely – usually another place that is familiar and carries fond memories.
5. Withdrawal from work or social activities: Your usually outgoing loved one may suddenly stop participating in activities, social gatherings and/or hobbies. Dementia may make it difficult to remember how to interact or conduct a hobby. In the early stages of Dementia people realize the changes they are undergoing and as a result may avoid social interactions altogether. The more complicated and noisy the situation, the more difficult it is for them to understand.
If you observe these early signs of dementia in a loved one talk with his or her primary care physician and ask for a referral to a neurologist for testing. Early diagnosis can lead to treatment and strategies that can make life easier and less frustrating for your loved one.