A dementia diagnosis is a difficult one to grasp and often a source of high anxiety among the senior population. I found this out first hand with one of my first public speeches on the topic. My talk was on the 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease and some statistics that went along with it. My target audience was one that needed basic information and an introductory lesson on the disease.
I was about 10 minutes early and found that every chair in my little room was full of wide-eyed people waiting on me to begin. My lecture should have taken about 20 minutes before I was to allow my audience the option to leave, and I thought, no problem.
I introduced myself and my topic and that was as far as I made it into my lecture before almost every hand shot up in the room for questions. I hadn't even started yet. I knew in that moment my planned speech was over and it was time to wing it.
I quieted the room and asked them instead to raise their hands to my questions.
Are you here because you or a loved one have been diagnosed and you are seeking more information? No hands....
Do you know someone with a form of dementia and you are looking for more information? No hands....
Have you had relatives like parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles that you remember pas away from dementia? No hands....
I was amazed, so I asked them...Are you here because you are aging and afraid of this disease? ALL of the hands went up.
Fear triggered these elders to come to the lecture that day. Fear of being the next victim. Dementia is a horrible disease. It reeks havoc on everyone involved. Their way of life changes, memories change, perceptions of reality change, and the health and safety of all are altered in a significant way.
I collected my thoughts for a moment and the hands went up again with questions. The same concerns were vocalized by all there, just with different wording.
"I get the names of loved ones mixed up."
"I lose things all of the time."
When seeking information about dementia the Alzheimer's Association alz.org is always a great place to start. The key to this search is to remain calm. Some cognitive decline is NORMAL in aging.
But where the difference lies is in noticeably bazaar behavior of yourself or a loved one.
The Alzheimer's Association has a great article called
10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_10_signs_of_alzheimers.asp
Which I will highlight here for you according to the website. For this purpose I will give examples instead of an explanation because in my experience, people relate better this way.
1. Memory loss the disrupts daily life
This is not misplacing something and finding it later or missing appointments and then remembering them later. This is forgetting your spouse's name, you have been with for 50 years. Sufferers will forget that a loved one has passed away years prior and try to go see them. Loved ones will notice that the elder needs to constantly rely on others to remember information and will often ask the same questions repeatedly.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
Following directions and using numbers will be disturbed when dementia has begun it's assault. The Alzheimer's Association has the best examples for this one. The individual will have a difficult time following a recipe, especially one they know well. They will struggle with balancing their check book or reviewing bank statements. Their concentration will be hindered so staying on task would prove challenging.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or at leisure
The individual displayed here would have difficulty with their normal day to day behaviors. Such as, every morning they used to walk the dog the same path and halfway through they suddenly lose track of where they are. Other signs would be forgetting how to turn on an oven or have difficulty working a telephone they have had for years.
4. Confusion with time or place
A person who is suffering from this horrible disease would have difficulty remembering how they had arrived at the grocery store. When an important day or event approaches, like Christmas for example, they will not understand what the significance of the day is even though they have celebrated it their entire lives.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
Sometimes visual disturbances can be one of the earliest tell-tail signs of Alzheimer's disease. But in the aging body there can be many other reasons that the elder is suffering from vision issues. Someone with dementia will have trouble differentiating between different surfaces. Such as, if a bathroom floor is white and the toilet seat is also white they may be unable to find the toilet seat at all.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
When having a conversation, the individual will pause and restart the conversation in it's entirety without realizing that they had already said everything. They may forget what basic items are called, and the example that the Alzheimer's Association gives is they call a watch a "hand-clock".
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
This is not to be confused with misplacing your keys or phone which happens to all of us. What this includes, is storing your keys or phone in the deep freezer or in a mixing bowl in the cabinet. And the person will have no idea how to find it or where it went.
8. Decreased or poor judgement
Money troubles is the go to example used with this sign. Those who suffer from Alzheimer's disease or a dementia will often be up late at night watching TV and the infomercials with their phone numbers on them are often irresistible. Loved ones will find hoards of boxed products in the individual's home and they will be out of thousands of dollars rather suddenly. There will be little to no memory of how this happened or what the products even are.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
In this example you will see a Grandmother who loves to knit suddenly lose interest or awareness of her specialty craft and Grandpa may have more and more accidents and incidences on the farm he has maintained for 50 years. Those people who like their morning "coffee club" as I call it, you know the ones that go to the local restaurants very early in the morning to socialize, with stop going or sleep in too late to go.
10. Changes in mood or personality
In my experience this is the most painful for the loved ones to experience. A beloved granddaughter could be accused of stealing her grandfather's money. A mother could mistaken her son for a stranger and treat him as such. Often times spouses or caregivers will come under abuse that their loved one would never have previously dealt. I have witnessed many examples of wives who had to place their loving husbands in care homes to escape being hit and bruised.
Alzheimer's Disease and any other form of Dementia can be a fearful prognosis or a great cause of anxiety in the life of an elder. It is important not to jump to conclusions. Also note that any one of these "Warning Signs" above is not a sole indicator that you or a loved one has Dementia. There are many other medical conditions, drug reactions, or environmental causes for someone to display warning signs of Dementia. It is very important to seek medical advice promptly so an evaluation of life and habits which can potentially solve the memory disturbances. And if a diagnosis of Dementia looks more likely, then early awareness and planning can prolong the quality of life for the sufferer as well as loved ones.