An aging parent who increasingly forgets or has problems with thinking may be showing symptoms of dementia. As an irreversible condition, dementia progresses slowly over time. Adult children should consult the senior’s doctor when they suspect a parent has dementia.
What is dementia?
Dementia is not a disease in itself. Rather dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that may include memory loss and issues with thinking and reasoning. An affected individual’s brain cells (neurons) stop connecting with other brain cells and die.
Dementia often develops in older people, with some form of dementia affecting up to half of all seniors over age 85. Despite its prevalence in the aging population, dementia is not a normal aspect of the aging process. Many people over the age of 90 live without developing dementia.
What are symptoms of dementia?
Adult children should pay attention to the early warning signs of dementia in an elderly parent. The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss that disrupts daily life. Occasional forgetfulness, like misplacing car keys, is not considered a symptom of dementia.
Disorientation is another key indicator of dementia. An older individual may fail to realize the date, season or why he is in a specific location. The senior is unaware of the passage of time and may think himself to be younger. Checking the calendar is not a sign of dementia.
Increasing difficulties with communication may signal dementia. A senior with dementia will struggle to find words, often replacing phrases for words. He may refer to a “clock” as “that thing that tells time.” However, occasionally failing to find the right word is not dementia.
Personality changes over many months are common when dementia sets in. An aging parent who is normally pleasant may resort to angry outbursts at the slightest trigger, like the grocery store switching the coffee aisle. Uncharacteristic moods and behaviors reflect adverse changes in the brain.
Misplacing items often can reveal the onset of dementia. An older parent may put the smartphone in the refrigerator; and, attempting to retrace his steps is overwhelmingly difficult. Frustration ensues as he accuses “someone” of hiding it. Moreover, he cannot remember how the phone got in the fridge.
Patterns of poor judgment point to dementia. A parent who normally dresses to the nines may look disheveled. On a cold, blistery day, she may wear light spring clothing. Additionally, an older parent with dementia may repeatedly be a victim of phone scams or bank fraud.
Handling everyday tasks is a challenge for people in the early stages of dementia. Getting from one location to the next is problematic—a worrying factor when the parent had traveled the route before without issue. Performing familiar tasks, like traveling, becomes difficult when dementia sets in.
What is not dementia?
While adult children might be rightly concerned when the symptoms of dementia appear, they should be aware that some medical conditions cause symptoms that mimic those of dementia. Once the underlying condition is treated, the dementia symptoms also go away.
Medication side effects, for instance, can cause symptoms that resemble dementia. Stress, depression and anxiety do the same. Head injuries, blood clots, brain infections and tumors also cause dementia-like symptoms. Even thyroid, kidney and liver problems can look like symptoms of dementia.
How does a doctor diagnose dementia?
Upon noticing changes in a parent’s thinking or behavior, the adult child is advised to schedule a visit with the senior’s doctor. A specialist, such as a neurologist, has expertise in disorders of the brain and nervous system and will be best able to diagnose dementia.
If unable to find a neurologist, seniors can see a geriatric psychiatrist, neuropsychologist or geriatrician. These doctors may have the skills necessary to diagnose dementia. Alternately, a referral to a dementia clinic may be obtained from the neurology department of a local medical school.
The senior’s doctor will perform an assessment to detect any underlying, treatable conditions that may have caused the dementia symptoms. A medical history will be obtained to determine if dementia runs in the family. The doctor will also ask if medications are taken, as some may cause dementia symptoms.
A diagnosis of dementia may be found after a series of tests. Neuropsychological tests assess memory and other cognitive functions. Laboratory tests can check vitamin and hormone levels. Brain scans, like CT and MRI, may be done to detect strokes or tumors, which can cause dementia.
An older parent may be already aware of and concerned about memory lapses. These individuals may feel relieved to discuss their worries with their adult children. Others, however, may resort to outright defensiveness or anger when the topic is brought up.
Adult children should discuss memory issues with a parent, even if the latter is in denial. Rather than using curt terms, like “dementia,” approach the topic by using “memory problems.” A gentle approach is needed, especially when a diagnosis has not yet been made.
If the parent refuses to visit the doctor, give another reason for a physician’s visit. The concerned child might tell a parent that he is due for an annual checkup. Upon discussing a parent’s resistance with the doctor’s office, ask them to call the parent to set up an appointment.
Even with a dementia diagnosis, seniors can age in the comfort of home with the help from memory care providers at Assisting Hands Home Care. Our dementia caregivers are trained in providing comprehensive home care for seniors living with any stage of dementia.
Our professional caregivers offer compassionate support when dementia patients suffer incontinence, wander or become agitated. We understand the symptoms of the condition and are equipped with the patience and knowledge to gently return the senior to a calm and comfortable state.
Families with aging parents living in the surrounding communities of Brookfield and Pewaukee, Wisconsin, turn to Assisting Hands Home Care for our dependable dementia home care and 24 hour home care services. Work with our friendly representatives to develop a customized dementia care plan for your elderly parent.