When is it time to worry?
Sara and Michael are constantly worried about their father, who lives alone, a three-hour drive away from them. They think he’s showing early signs of dementia because he doesn’t seem to remember if he fed the dog, repeats his stories and has become even more reclusive and grouchier lately.
Often, families reach out when they begin to see changes in their loved one but don’t know what to do next. So, when is the time to start planning to help your loved one thrive despite brain changes?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are several warning signs for Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Forgetfulness or dementia?
Of course, memory loss is the biggest and first red flag, but how does one determine if it’s simply normal forgetfulness, part of the aging process? Forgetting an appointment isn’t a concern, especially if the person remembers that appointment later. But memory loss that interferes with daily living – forgetting how to use the microwave or phone, not remembering the way to get home – is considered one of the earliest clues of dementia.
Even the youngest people forget where they put their car keys, but some of the more serious warning signs of dementia might be forgetting the word for keys or not being able to retrace steps in the house to find them.
Memory loss isn’t the only sign of dementia: a key indicator in Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is a change in mood or personality. If Sara and Michael’s father had always been grumpy and reclusive, that’s not necessarily a change in personality. However, if he previously had been socially active and the life of the party, but they notice he doesn’t have any interest in being around people any longer, that, together with some of the other signs, might be concerning.
The stages of dementia
Dementia, like many other diseases, occurs in stages. There are seven different stages of dementia:
- No impairment. Someone at this stage will show no symptoms, but tests may reveal a problem.
- Very mild decline. You may notice slight changes in behavior, but your loved one will still be independent.
- Mild decline. You’ll notice more changes in their thinking and reasoning. They may have trouble making plans, and they may repeat themselves a lot. They may also have a hard time remembering recent events.
- Moderate decline. They’ll have more problems with making plans and remembering recent events. They may have a hard time traveling and handling money.
- Moderately severe decline. They may not remember their phone number or their grandchildren’s names. They may be confused about the time of day or day of the week. At this point, they’ll need assistance with some basic day-to-day functions, such as picking out clothes to wear.
- Severe decline. They’ll begin to forget the name of their spouse. They’ll need help going to the restroom and eating. You may also see changes in their personality and emotions.
- Very severe decline. They can no longer speak their thoughts. They can’t walk and will spend most of their time in bed.
How can you help?
Once you have noticed one or more warning signs, there are many things you can do to help your loved one:
- Have open conversations with your loved one, especially as soon as you notice one or more of the warning signs of dementia. These conversations may have to happen more than once, especially if your loved one is in denial of their memory loss. Often, the people closest to those experiencing brain changes will notice warning signs well before the person impacted.
- Look into resources around your community. Caregiver support groups, early-stage social engagements and education classes are great resources to consider.
- Reach out to a trusted general practitioner or gerontologist who may help provide direction, new treatment options and the best next steps for your loved one.
Preparing for the journey
Knowing you are dealing with Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia is half the journey. Preparing your loved one for a future that is active, engaged, and fulfilling is very important.
At Cardinal Ritter Senior Services, our memory care communities will do that and so much more. We are certified in Teepa Snow’s Positive Approach to Care, which does exactly what the name says – uses positive therapeutic approaches for positive outcomes and creates supportive environments that match the abilities of the person living with brain change.
We have two new state-of-the-art memory care communities opening in January 2023 that have 26 separate living suites. The complex is designed to create a calming atmosphere where residents with memory loss thrive based on the many options we offer for their overall well-being. All activities are designed specifically to help the individual with memory loss reconnect with favorite hobbies, interests, and memories.
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