Where To Find Help
When your loved one is displaying troubling symptoms, a trip to a primary care physician is often the first step. But to get a definitive diagnosis, youll need to see a specialist such as a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist.
If you cant find one, the National Institute on Aging recommends contacting the neurology department of a nearby medical school. Some hospitals also have clinics that focus on dementia.
Ailments can mimic dementia
How To Spot Early Indicators That Your Loved One May Have Alzheimers Or Dementia
by Patrick J. Kiger, AARP, Updated September 27, 2021
En español | From age 50 on, its not unusual to have occasional trouble finding the right word or remembering where you put things.
But persistent difficulty with memory, cognition and ability to perform everyday tasks might be signs that something more serious is happening to a loved ones brain.
Dementia isnt actually a disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Its a catch-all term for changes in the brain that cause a loss of functioning that interferes with daily life. Dementia can diminish focus, the ability to pay attention, language skills, problem-solving and visual perception. It also can make it difficult for a person to control his or her emotions and lead to personality changes.
More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, according to the “2021 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report fromthe Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, accounting for 60 percent to 70 percent of cases, but a range of brain illnesses can lead to the condition .
Diseases that cause dementia
These conditions are the leading causes of dementia. Many patients have mixed dementia, a combination of two or more types, such as Alzheimers and vascular dementia.
Lewy body dementia. Abnormal protein deposits in the brain, called Lewy bodies, affect brain chemistry and lead to problems with behavior, mood, movement and thinking.
What To Do If You Think A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s
Have you noticed your mothers memory declining? Do you question your husbands judgment in areas where he has always displayed competence in until recently? Has your sister been behaving strangely lately and falsely accusing you of taking her money?
If youre in that uncomfortable place where you suspect your loved one may have Alzheimers, it can be difficult to know what to do. Its a touchy subject to raise, and one that requires careful thought before doing so.
Are There Any Treatments
There are treatments that can help with the symptoms of some forms of dementia for a period of time, but there are currently no treatments that slow, halt or reverse the changes in the brain caused by the diseases. There are currently no treatments specifically for vascular dementia or frontotemporal dementia.
In the case of vascular dementia, a doctor may prescribe medication to treat underlying cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes. Physiotherapy, speech therapy or occupational therapy may be offered to help with speech or movement problems. Non-drug treatments such as cognitive therapies may be available and can help some people with dementia to manage their symptoms.
Alzheimer’s Society has more information on treatments for dementia.
Symptoms Specific To Vascular Dementia
Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia, after Alzheimer’s. Some people have both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, often called “mixed dementia”.
Symptoms of vascular dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, although memory loss may not be as obvious in the early stages.
Symptoms can sometimes develop suddenly and quickly get worse, but they can also develop gradually over many months or years.
Specific symptoms can include:
- stroke-like symptoms: including muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side of the body
- movement problems difficulty walking or a change in the way a person walks
- thinking problems having difficulty with attention, planning and reasoning
- mood changes depression and a tendency to become more emotional
Read more about vascular dementia.
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Can You Die From Dementia
Dementia is usually considered a disorder affecting memory and is associated with aging. In the initial stages, this could be true. Loss of memory is one of the earliest signs of the disease.
However, according to experts, dementia is a fatal brain failure that needs to be taken seriously like other terminal diseases that kill a patient slowly. It is not just an ailment that is associated with the elderly.
Even though the distinction is not really known in the medical field and to the general public, it is something that needs to be considered when one has to be treated at the very end stage of the condition.
It is believed that the fact that people are misinformed and misguided about dementia, the end stage treatment is usually made very aggressive.
The disease progresses quite slowly and the fact that it affects so many people means that it should be taken seriously. Dementia is a collection or a consequence of different diseases like Alzheimers disease, vascular dementia, and Parkinsons disease. In later stages, you can tell the type of dementia that is affecting a certain patient.
The patient can have eating problems, pneumonia, fever, pain, and difficulty breathing, which are all caused by the failure of the brain. In the end, dementia involves so many other parts of the body.
It is important to appreciate that the brain is the engine of our bodies. It controls everything, including metabolism, gastrointestinal tract, the lungs, and even the heart.
Ways To Help When Someone Has Anosognosia In Dementia
1. Dont try to convince them they have dementiaUsing reason and evidence to explain or insist that someone has dementia is not going to help.
It will only upset them and will likely make them even more convinced that theyre right and youre wrongly discrediting them.
A more effective strategy is to discreetly make changes that will help them live safely.
And overall, stay calm and focused on their feelings when expressing your concerns and keep your comments as subtle and positive as possible.
2. Work with their doctors and care teamWhen your older adults dementia symptoms are interfering with their daily lives, its time to start working with their care team including doctors, relatives, friends, in-home caregivers, or assisted living staff.
Explain the problems your older adult is having and help the team understand that they arent aware of their dementia and why it wont help to try to convince them logically.
Work together to creatively provide your older adult the help they need without waiting for them ask for it or forcing them to admit theres a problem.
3. Discreetly make their life as safe as possibleMaking your older adults everyday life simpler and safer can help prevent someone with anosognosia in dementia from hurting themselves or others.
Some people might try to drive, manage money, cook, or do other activities that could be dangerous because of their cognitive impairment.
Finding ways to help that still preserve pride will be most effective.
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Mental Ability Tests To Diagnose Dementia
People with symptoms of dementia are given tests to check their mental abilities, such as memory or thinking.
These tests are known as cognitive assessments, and may be done initially by a GP.
There are several different tests. A common one used by GPs is the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition .
Although these tests cannot diagnose dementia, they may show there are memory difficulties that need further investigation.
Most tests involve a series of pen-and-paper tests and questions, each of which carries a score.
These tests assess a number of different mental abilities, including:
- short- and long-term memory
- language and communication skills
- awareness of time and place
It’s important to remember that test scores may be influenced by a person’s level of education.
For example, someone who cannot read or write very well may have a lower score, but they may not have dementia.
Similarly, someone with a higher level of education may achieve a higher score, but still have dementia.
Can Dementia Be Prevented
Because the causes of dementia are not yet fully known, there is no sure way to prevent dementia. However, you can reduce the risk of dementia by caring for your:
- Heart health Whats good for your heart is good for your brain. Have a healthy dietand stop smoking.
- Body health Regular physical activity increases blood flow to the brain. Keep an active lifestyle.
- Mind health An active mind helps build brain cells and strengthens their connections. Stay social, play games like puzzles and crosswords, and take up new hobbies and languages.
Learn more about the risk factors of dementia such as ageing, smoking and high cholesterol and blood pressure:
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What Are The Signs That Someone With Dementia Is Dying
It is difficult to know when a person with dementia is coming to the end of their life. However, there are some symptoms that may indicate the person is at the end of their life including:
- limited speech
- needing help with everyday activities
- eating less and swallowing difficulties
- incontinence and becoming bed bound.
When these are combined with frailty, recurrent infections and/or pressure ulcers, the person is likely to be nearing the end of their life. If the person has another life limiting condition , their condition is likely to worsen in a more predictable way.
When a person gets to within a few days or hours of dying, further changes are common. These include:
- deteriorating more quickly
- irregular breathing
- cold hands and feet.
These are part of the dying process, and its important to be aware of them so that you can help family and friends understand what is happening.
When a person with dementia is at the end of life its important to support the person to be as comfortable as possible until they die
For more information, see our page, Signs that someone is in their last days or hours.
What Are Your Options
Did you read these early signs of dementia and become even more concerned about yourself or your loved one? First of all, dont panic. These are all early signs, and catching it at this early stage is the best thing you can do.
Next, make an appointment with a doctor. Theyll be able to fully evaluate you or your loved ones condition and get a treatment plan started. Theyll also help you compare treatment options and plans to get the best plan set up for your situation.
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What To Watch For
Here are some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:
Difficulty with everyday tasks. Everyone makes mistakes, but people with dementia may find it increasingly difficult to do things like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking, the Alzheimers Association says. They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them or have trouble finishing them.
Repetition. Asking a question over and over or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times are common indicators of mild or moderate Alzheimer’s, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Communication problems. Observe if a loved one has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
Getting lost. People with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities. That can manifest itself in problems like getting lost while driving, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Personality changes. A loved one who begins acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious becomes upset easily or loses interest in activities and seems depressed is cause for concern.
Troubling behavior. If your family member seems to have increasingly poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, pay attention.
People with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
How To Test For Dementia
There is no single test that can determine a person is suffering from dementia. The doctor can diagnose different types of dementia such as Alzheimers based on their medical history.
This has to be done very carefully. In addition, the doctor may conduct laboratory tests, physical examinations, and changes in the way the patient thinks.
When all things are considered carefully, a doctor can be able to determine that a person is actually suffering from dementia with certainty. Determining the type of dementia can be hard, especially due to the fact that brain changes and symptoms that are associated with the different types of dementias sometimes overlap.
It is normal for the doctor to give a diagnosis of dementia without really specifying the type. In such a case, it is important for the patient to visit a specialist in this area like a psychologist or neurologist for a more specific diagnosis.
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Early Signs Of Dementia Checklist
Signs of early onset dementia usually affect people in their 50s and early 60s. But is it really a dementia sign or is it just a something we do as we get older?
|Signs of Dementia/Alzheimers:|
|Making a bad decision once in a while|
|Inability to manage a budget||Missing a monthly payment|
|Losing track of the date or the season||Forgetting what day it is and remembering later|
|Difficulty having a conversation||Sometimes forgetting which word to use|
|Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them||Losing things from time to time|
As dementia is a progressive neurological disorder, there are many stages and dementia symptoms. The changes are gradual, and this may give your parent time to receive an early diagnosis and to slow down the disease.
The first signs of dementia can be spotted before the symptoms make a big impact on day-to-day living and overall quality of life. For more information on the various stages of dementia, download our free and comprehensive dementia guide.
Sometimes dementia diagnosis can be difficult as there is no one simple test to carry out and early symptoms can be similar to the age-related changes listed above. Here are 10 early signs of Dementia to look out for.
People Become Aware Of The Changes
Some people with dementia may go about their lives oblivious to what is going on in their brains.
A report from Johns Hopkins in 2018 revealed that a majority of people living with dementia do not know about their diagnosis.
Some of these people might suffer from anosognosia which is a result of cell damage in the parietal and right pre-frontal lobes.
Other people may notice the physical changes, mental limitations, and behaviors that the ill person showcases but they will remain adamant that nothing is wrong.
This creates challenges for caregivers because they will be dealing with someone who thinks they are fine thus, they do not need to take the necessary measures to treat symptoms and increase longevity because dementia does not have a cure to date.
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Encouraging Someone To See Their Gp
If dementia is detected early, in some cases its progress can be slowed and the person affected might be able to maintain their mental function for longer.
It might help to suggest that you accompany your friend or relative to the GP to support them. This way, after the appointment you can help them recall what has been discussed.
Dementia is diagnosed by doctors ruling out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms and carrying out a thorough assessment.
A GP or a doctor specialising in memory problems will run a series of tests to see if theres an alternative explanation for the problems. The doctor will also want to discuss how symptoms have developed over time.
Talk With Close Family Members Or Friends
Check in with others who know your loved one to see if theyve noticed any changes. Do this in a respectful, confidential manner to avoid unnecessary hurt or embarrassment.
When Alzheimers strikes, although many people become quite skilled at covering their memory lapses, they find it difficult to maintain that around those who know them well. Its often helpful to verify if others have made similar observations they may have been questioning the same thing and not have known whether to raise the concern or ignore it.
Of course, your objective here is not to spread a rumor or gossip, but rather to collaborate with those closest to your loved one.
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Caring For Someone With Dementia Towards The End Of Life
Please be aware – this information is for healthcare professionals. We also have information for the public.
You can use our My Learning form to reflect on how this page has helped with your continuing professional development.
People with dementia may experience problems with thinking, memory, behaviour and mobility. It can be difficult to recognise when someone with dementia is nearing the end of their life. You can support the person by communicating with them and helping them with any symptoms they have. If possible, its a good idea to plan the persons care in advance to help understand what they want from their care.
On this page:
How To Share The Diagnosis
Sharing the initial news of the diagnosis may come from any one of a number of people.
The doctor or specialist, assessment team or members of the family may talk to the person about the diagnosis either individually or as a group.
You might consider having someone present at the time of telling to provide extra support.
Planning ahead about the best way to share the diagnosis will make it easier.
As individual responses will be different, careful consideration must be given to every individual situation.
There are some considerations that will be generally helpful when talking with a person about their diagnosis:
- Ensure that the setting is quiet and without competing noise and distractions.
- Speak slowly and directly to the person.
- Give one message at a time.
- Allow time for the person to absorb the information and to form questions. Information may need to be added later.
- Written information about dementia can be helpful to take away and provides a helpful reference. Dementia Australia has information written specifically for people with dementia. In some instances this information is available in video or audio format. Contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
- Ensure that someone is available to support the person after being told about the diagnosis.