All too many times family members write-off early warning signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia as typical age-related changes to behavior or cognitive function. Too often families do not look into a memory care community for their loved one or family member until an event has occurred that put the aging senior in danger. These events have included the family member wandering off, getting lost during routine errands, leaving active stoves or ovens unattended, and a variety of other dangerous situations.
To help the family and friends of aging seniors to better identify what are common age-related changes vs. potential early signs of Alzheimer’s of Dementia; we have put together the following list of common signs and symptoms you should be aware of.
1) Changes in otherwise stable personality traits or mood. While we ALL have off-days, it is important to note prolonged mood changes that seem to come out of the blue. Some common changes include the aging senior becoming habitually confused, depressed, anxious, or afraid of things that have very little basis in reality. If the neighbor was just robbed and the family member you are concerned about becomes worried about the security of their home, safety, and possessions; this makes perfect sense and is a reaction most of us would have. However, if these types of fears and anxiety come from out of the blue, it is something to take note of. Once again it is important to look for changes in personality traits and mood. If the individual has always had the propensity to worry about the items they are worrying about now, it is not near as concerning as new points of stress and anxiety coming out of the blue.
2) Reduction of engagement in social activities. In many cases, an individual with Alzheimer’s may remove themselves from social situations without a clear reason. Many times this is due to the aging senior’s difficulty in following discussions about topics they once were completely engaged with. For instance speaking with friends about the current state of their favorite sports team can become a burden if they are now having a difficult time remembering the name of new players, the outcome of recent games, etc. It is also common for those impacted by symptoms of Alzheimer’s to reduce time spent engaging in hobbies they once used to enjoy. This is particularly the case with hobbies that engage cognitive function that can be impaired by Alzheimer’s. It is common for individuals at any age to become temporarily weary of social obligations for a short period of time, but it is important to view this in the context of a behavioral shift.
3) Misplacing common items and difficulty retracing steps. While it is very common for people of all ages to misplace items momentarily, Alzheimer’s can manifest itself through the propensity for aging seniors to place items in places completely out of character. Placing keys in the dresser drawer just next to the one where they usually do may be a simple oversight that can be attributed to being distracted. Placing car keys or common items in an uncommon place without the ability to recall why they put the item there is a much more concerning event. It is important to view all of these changes through the prism of understanding the individual’s lifelong behavior and how much the new behavior deviates. If an aging family member just moved and is simply needing time to acclimate that is completely understandable, whereas losing items in the family home where they have lived for years should be noted.
4) Difficulty pinpointing the day, time, season, or place. It is easy for any of us to momentarily have to search for what day of the week it is to determine if garbage collection day is today or tomorrow, or having to peek at a calendar to confirm the date before signing a check. For individuals showing signs of Alzheimer’s, it is common for confusion around time or place to be exacerbated. These signs can come in the way of somebody who is usually on top of changing seasons, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. forgetting such seasons or dates that are completely out of character. For a husband who never remembers his anniversary without prompting it may not be out of the norm for him to have to make a run to the mall the day before when reminded. It is important to keep historical behavior in context when looking for signs of Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
5) Having a hard time completing familiar tasks. One of the most recognizable symptoms of Alzheimer’s is the senior’s increased difficulty doing routine things like driving to a familiar location, remembering the rules to a game that they enjoy, or managing their household budget and paying their bills on time. As is the case with all of the potential symptoms discussed previously, it is important to look for signs that the family member you are worried about forgets things they once knew. Taking up a new hobby, learning to manage a new appliance, or converting to online banking can present a learning curve to people of all ages. It is when a routine, without outside changes impacting it becomes unduly difficult for your loved one that it is time to take a closer look.
It is important that all of the signs and symptoms discussed in this article are viewed through the prism of knowing the individual’s baseline character and behavior. Everybody ages differently and a single symptom of a minor degree may not be a reason in itself for great worry. It is when patterns are noted, or dramatic changes are observed that steps should be taken to further educate yourself about Alzheimer’s, and steps should be taken to ensure the safety and care of your loved one. Our caring memory care staff at Oakmont Senior Living are always here to answer any questions you may have. We also have additional resources, Alzheimer’s awareness seminars, and support groups to help you navigate the complicated subject matter of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Dementia.