Q+a: My Parents Are Showing Signs Of Dementia What Can I Do
As the country gets older, the mounting problem of dementia will only become more prominent. Its already the sixth leading cause of death in the country and the only killer among the top 10 that is completely unpreventable. The Alzheimers Association predicts that, by the year 2050, Americans will spend over $1 trillion on treatment for dementia, five times the current price tag. For those of us whose loved ones suffer from the disease, its a trial every day. We cant do anything about the emotional or physical toll the disease takes on loved ones and caregivers, but the devastating financial costs can be mitigated with a combination of planning, transparency and teamwork.
Q: I think one of my parents is showing signs of dementia. What can I do now, before the symptoms get worse?
A: Because dementia is a group of symptoms, rather than a specific disease, early identification is important, but a full diagnosis may be far off. Those early days of uncertainty, in which the good days outnumber the bad, can be very tough. Even if its difficult, though, taking decisive action early on is very important.
If you are your parents primary caregiver, you will be spending their money. Someone in the family will resent that. Be prepared.
Q: Okay, so what do I do once Ive assembled my team of loved ones?
Q: Is there anything I can do to help?
Q: What can TwinStar Credit Union do to help?
TwinStar Routing Number
Stage : Moderate Dementia
Patients in stage 5 need some assistance in order to carry out their daily lives. The main sign for stage 5 dementia is the inability to remember major details such as the name of a close family member or a home address. Patients may become disoriented about the time and place, have trouble making decisions, and forget basic information about themselves, such as a telephone number or address.
While moderate dementia can interfere with basic functioning, patients at this stage do not need assistance with basic functions such as using the bathroom or eating. Patients also still have the ability to remember their own names and generally the names of spouses and children.
Lead With Dignity And Respect
Dementia isnt like other diseases. Its impact can be as dramatic and devastating as cancer but because it involves cognitive decline, it takes away something people have long taken for granted: the ability to make choices and have control. What makes the disease really unique from all other diseases is it requires someone else to help you self-determine your own life, Karlawish said.
When adult children face parents with possible dementia symptoms, Karlawish said they need to recognize the fundamental ethical matter at stake. Youre in a negotiation with someone else about how theyre going to exercise their self determination, their identity and their privacy, Karlawish said. And I think most of us, when you frame it that way, would say we better be pretty, pretty dignified about it and pretty respectful about it.
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What Are Some Warning Signs Of Dementia
Any change in a loved ones ability to think or make decisions warrants a conversation and a trip to the doctor. Some of the most common warning signs of Alzheimers include:
- Difficulty planning, solving problems, or completing basic tasks, such as finishing a familiar recipe.
- Memory loss that affects daily life. For instance, a senior might forget their keys so frequently that they no longer feel safe leaving their home alone.
- Confusing time or place, such as by thinking they are in a different time or location.
- Increasingly poor judgment.
- Forgetting familiar people.
Many people see Alzheimers and dementia as synonymous, but Alzheimers is just one manifestation of dementia. Symptoms of other types of dementia can include:
- Memory loss or thinking changes associated with a cardiovascular problem, such as stroke or high blood pressure.
- Word-finding difficulties.
- Difficulty reading, writing, or understanding language.
- Sudden changes in personality. For example, a once reserved senior might become impulsive or aggressive.
- New or worsening mood issues, such as anxiety or depression.
- Changes in movement. Seniors with Parkinsons may shake, while those with frontotemporal dementia may have a slow or unsteady gait.
Who Can Diagnose Dementia
Visiting a primary care doctor is often the first step for people who are experiencing changes in thinking, movement, or behavior. However, neurologists doctors who specialize in disorders of the brain and nervous system are often consulted to diagnose dementia. Geriatric psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and geriatricians may also be able to diagnose dementia. Your doctor can help you find a specialist.
If a specialist cannot be found in your community, contact the nearest medical school neurology department for a referral. A medical school hospital also may have a dementia clinic that provides expert evaluation. You can also visit the Alzheimers Disease Research Centers directory to see if there is an NIA-funded center near you. These centers can help with obtaining a diagnosis and medical management of conditions.
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New Survey Describes Reluctance
The Alzheimers Association released results of a new two-question survey May 31, in advance of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month in June, on difficulties family members have in talking about the disease. The responses are concerning.
Almost 30 percent of the approximately 1,000 adult respondents said they would not talk to a relative about troubling signs of dementia, despite their worries.
A majority said they would be concerned about “offending” a family member or ruining relationship with that person . And 38 percent said they would wait to talk to their loved one until symptoms worsened.
The online survey was taken last month.
Pam Montana, 63, said in a statement that getting diagnosed early was vital for her.
It is important for me to face this disease and share my story while I’m able, said Montana, of Danville, Calif., who speaks publicly as an Alzheimers Association early stage adviser. That leads to an enormous sense of accomplishment, even with this extremely difficult diagnosis. I want to tell these stories and let others know they are not alone.”
She also wants to demonstrate that having Alzheimers does not mean an immediate end to life.
Stage : Mild Dementia
At this stage, individuals may start to become socially withdrawn and show changes in personality and mood. Denial of symptoms as a defense mechanism is commonly seen in stage 4. Behaviors to look for include:
- Difficulty remembering things about one’s personal history
- Difficulty recognizing faces and people
In stage 4 dementia, individuals have no trouble recognizing familiar faces or traveling to familiar locations. However, patients in this stage will often avoid challenging situations in order to hide symptoms or prevent stress or anxiety.
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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.
Difficulty Completing Normal Tasks
A subtle shift in the ability to complete normal tasks may indicate that someone has early dementia. This usually starts with difficulty doing more complex tasks like balancing a checkbook or playing games that have a lot of rules.
Along with the struggle to complete familiar tasks, they may struggle to learn how to do new things or follow new routines.
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Struggling To Adapt To Change
For someone in the early stages of dementia, the experience can cause fear. Suddenly, they cant remember people they know or follow what others are saying. They cant remember why they went to the store, and they get lost on the way home.
Because of this, they might crave routine and be afraid to try new experiences. Difficulty adapting to change is also a typical symptom of early dementia.
Signs Your Parent Needs To Be Tested
Just because your parent might be starting to forget things every now and then doesnât mean Alzheimerâs disease or another type of dementia is the cause. However, itâs important to be on the lookout for changes that arenât a normal part of the aging process. According to the National Institute on Aging and Mayo Clinic, these are early signs of more serious memory problems:
- Repeating questions
- Mixing up wordsâusing the wrong word to identify something
- Taking longer to complete familiar tasks
- Getting lost in familiar area
- Not being able to follow directions
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Confusion about time, people and places
- Neglecting personal hygiene
Your parent should see a doctor if he or she is experiencing these problems. Itâs important for him or her to be tested to see if symptoms are due to Alzheimerâs, another type of dementia or something else entirely. Dementia-like symptoms can be caused by depression, sleep apnea, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, medication side effects or excessive alcohol consumptionâall of which can be helped with treatment.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimerâs disease, an early diagnosis will allow your parent to get treatment that can lessen symptoms. Plus, it will give you and your parent more time to discuss what sort of care he or she wants and to make a plan to pay for that care.
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Recognition And Coordination Difficulties
A person showing early signs of dementia may put everyday things in unusual places . They may have difficulty recognising familiar items such as a chair, soap, toothbrush, cutlery, kettle, coffee jar, cooker or fridge.
Signs of a loss of coordination skills can include struggling to undo or do up buttons, to tie or untie shoes and neckties, and to use a hair brush or razor. They may be more subtle, such as putting down a cup of tea too close to the edge of a table or having difficulties lifting a teapot or kettle or using a knife to cut vegetables or fruit.
Having The Conversation About Dementia
Its hard for adult children to watch parents decline in health as they age. It is even harder, for most of us, to talk with them about the changes we see. When the subject is something as frightening and sensitive as dementia, it can seem almost impossible.
I think people are worried about hurting a family relationship or hurting someone’s feelings or upsetting people that they care about, said Ruth Drew, director of family and information services at the Alzheimers Association.
But making the decision to broach the subject can help everyone the parent and other loved ones because it can lead to a diagnosis, Drew said.
When you know what you’re dealing with upfront, then you can plan, she said. The person can have a voice in what happens next.
For example, your parent might say: ‘If at some point down the road I am not able to take care of myself, here is what I would want,’ Drew said. That planning is able to give some comfort and also reduce fear of the unknown, she added. The alternative waiting until there is a crisis makes choices very limited, Drew noted.
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Could My Loved One Be Faking Dementia
No one wants to believe that their loved one has dementia, and because no single test can conclusively diagnose all forms of dementia, it can be difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. Thus, many people believe that their loved one might be faking. A number of unique dementia features can compound this belief. Those include:
- The fact that dementia is inconsistent. A person may be better on some days and worse on others.
- Personality changes associated with dementia. You might mistakenly believe that the problem is depression, or that your loved one is being manipulative.
- Dementia tends to get worse at night. This is called sundowning.
Dealing With Complex Emotions
Witnessing dementia in a parent is one of the hardest things we face as adults. We see our former caretakers become dependent and disabled, often over a long period of time. Even in the early stages of disease, we confront the vulnerability of someone who at one time we viewed as strong and powerful. The emotional consequences for adult children can seem endless and overwhelming.
Whether we are a direct caregiver or not, there is constant worry and preoccupation. When will mom get worse? Is dad yelling at the nursing aides again? When should we think about memory care? Additionally, one of the most unique aspects of human relationships is that we hold them in mind, and assume they are thinking of us as well. When a parent starts to forget, one of the things we may wonder is how much longer we will remain on their minds. After all, parents are supposed to worry about us, not the other way around.
Some of the hardest things for adult children managing dementia involve balancing worry and the realization that roles have changed. How people cope with these realities depends, in part, on the history of your relationship with your parent.
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Acknowledge The Conversation May Not Go As Planned
You know you have good intentions, but your loved one may not be open or willing to discuss the changes you have noticed. They may be angry or defensive. Dont force the conversation. Take a break and plan to revisit the conversation later. If your loved one still refuses help, contact a medical professional.
Have The Conversation As Soon As Possible
Talking with someone about their memory loss will never be easy, particularly if the person you are talking to is your parent. Its an incredibly emotive subject with highly emotional connotations, and so must be approached carefully.
The most important thing that you can do is to have the conversation as early as possible. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the earlier any treatment is started, the more effective they are likely to be. Secondly, its a good idea to have conversations about care and treatment plans while your loved one is still coherent enough to contribute. This way, they can be part of the decision-making process, and you can be sure that they are happy with the care option you decide on.
Finally, its quite likely that the first conversation may not go well. You might be met with denial, anger, or your loved one may become quite distraught. By beginning the conversation as early as possible you give yourself enough time to have multiple attempts at the conversation, and to not have to push anyone harder than necessary.
Its important that your loved one comes away from the conversation feeling supported, so be sure to reiterate the fact that you are there for them as much as possible. Its also worth thinking about who has the conversation. If there is a family member with whom there is a fractious history, for example, they may not be the best one to approach such a sensitive subject.
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The Seven Stages Of Dementia
One of the most difficult things to hear about dementia is that, in most cases, dementia is irreversible and incurable. However, with an early diagnosis and proper care, the progression of some forms of dementia can be managed and slowed down. The cognitive decline that accompanies dementia conditions does not happen all at once – the progression of dementia can be divided into seven distinct, identifiable stages.
Learning about the stages of dementia can help with identifying signs and symptoms early on, as well as assisting sufferers and caretakers in knowing what to expect in further stages. The earlier dementia is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can start.
Becoming Confused In Familiar Surroundings
This is different to: getting confused about the day of the week but working it out later.
Your parent may forget where they are and how they got there. Along with losing track of dates, seasons and the time this is one of the most tell-tale signs of early onset dementia.
They may also struggle to understand something if its not happening immediately. This is because the mind of someone with dementia is mostly situated in the present and they find it difficult to comprehend the passage of time.
For example, your mum may tell you shes missed you because she thinks she hasnt seen you in a long time, but in reality you visited her last week. Another example includes time passing very slowly in a general sense: ten minutes might seem like an hour, an hour might seem like a day and so on.
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