The thought of dementia causes anxiety in so many people. You may have even found yourself worrying about it. Perhaps someone in your family has dementia or is showing signs that indicate dementia. Perhaps you have noticed a slight loss of memory in yourself as you age. Perhaps the number of your “dementia encounters” has simply increased because of the amount of information available on the internet and through mass media. At the very least, most people will admit that the thought of having dementia makes them uncomfortable. Experts will tell you, however, that most of the worry is not only a waste of your time and energy, but excessive worry can also actually be harmful to your health.
Unfortunately, much of the anxiety people experience about dementia might result from misinformation or a misunderstanding of the risks and consequences of having it. For this reason, we present this article to provide accurate information that will help you form a basic understanding of dementia. First of all, we will provide a checklist of early warning signs of dementia. Then, we will discuss the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dementia.
13 early signs and of dementia
Before reading this list, it is important to know that early warning signs of dementia are difficult to identify, and they often mirror signs of other conditions. Therefore, if you notice one or two of the following signs in yourself or in a loved one it is important not to automatically assume that the signs are related to dementia. However, if you notice several of these early warning signs presenting themselves at the same time, we encourage you to discuss them with your doctor. Do not simply ignore them or pass them off as the normal effects of aging. The sooner dementia is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin in order to slow its progress.
1. Memory loss
The most common early sign of dementia is trouble remembering things, especially things that happened recently. Because of this memory loss, you will require more frequent reminders to do things you previously remembered on your own. It can result in repeating the same question or statement several times within a single conversation. Of course, as you age, some loss of memory function is normal. Forgetting a name or appointment, and remembering it later occurs more often as you grow older. But, frequently forgetting things and not being able to remember them later can indicate that the memory loss needs to be checked out.
2. Vision loss
Unusual changes in your vision can be one of the earliest signs of dementia. This vision loss can often make it difficult to read or see differences in color or contrast.
3. Misplacing things
Frequently putting things in unusual places, forgetting where you put them and not remembering how they got there if you find them later can be an early sign of dementia. We all misplace things sometimes, but we are usually able to retrace our steps and eventually find them. If you have dementia, you may not be able to do that.
4. Poor judgment
If you have dementia, your judgment may suffer. This might result in unusual behaviors such as making bad decisions with your money, neglecting your personal grooming habits or wearing clothes that are not appropriate for the current weather.
5. Confusion about time
Another early sign of dementia is trouble remembering what day, season or year it is. You may lose the ability to distinguish between what happened yesterday with what will happen tomorrow.
6. Confusion about place
Remembering where you are or how to get from one place to another can become difficult with dementia. You may think you are somewhere else while you are sitting in your own living room. You may become easily lost and lose your sense of direction within familiar surroundings. Estimating distance from one place to another can also become difficult.
7. Difficulty with words and conversation
Following and understanding a conversation can become difficult when you have dementia. Speaking can also become a challenge. You may be in the middle of speaking, stop abruptly and be unable to finish your thought. You may also have trouble thinking of a specific word, even it if is commonly used. Other signs include substituting common words with unusual replacements. For example, you may say “arm clock” instead of watch, or “hair fixer” instead of a comb.
8. Difficulty with familiar tasks or activities
No matter how familiar you are with a specific task or activity, it can become difficult for you to complete with dementia. This is especially true if the task includes several steps, sequences or rules, like balancing your checkbook. Even activities that you previously enjoyed, like cooking or playing cards, lose your interest because they become too confusing.
9. Difficulty with planning or problem solving
Concentration and focus can become so challenging with dementia, that you have difficulty with simple planning or problem solving. Simple tasks like planning a meal or making a shopping list can become overwhelming. This inability to concentrate can also make it difficult to read and comprehend what you just read.
10. Difficulty with determining distance
Another early sign of dementia is an increasing difficulty in determining the distance between two objects. You may have trouble placing an object you are holding in your hand on a shelf, or you may misjudge the distance between your car and the car in front of you.
11. Changes in mood, personality or behavior
Frequent and rapid mood swings for no apparent reason can signify dementia. A change in overall personality and behavior can also be a sign. If you have always been outgoing, with dementia your behavior may become more introverted and subdued. If you were a quiet person before, you may become more aggressive and uninhibited. Mood and behavioral changes are difficult to link directly to dementia. But, changes as described above, along with increased anxiety, ease of agitation, restlessness and the development of new fears can raise the suspicion of dementia.
12. Lack of initiative or motivation
With dementia, you may lose the desire to participate in activities you have previously enjoyed for years. You may lose interest in hobbies, or you may experience a sense of depression and general lack of motivation to do anything.
13. Withdrawal from social activities
As you notice the early signs of dementia and experience its early stages, you may find it increasingly difficult to interact with other people and participate in social activities. As a result, you may begin to withdraw socially to avoid frustration or embarrassment.
Any of the early warning signs of dementia can go unnoticed for a while. It may take time to notice consistent change related to the behavioral signs. You may notice some of the signs in yourself, but chose to conceal them so that others don’t notice. However, we encourage you to talk to your doctor as soon as you suspect dementia. Or, you may think you notice some of these signs in a loved one; but aren’t sure. In this case, you can always ask others whether or not they notice the signs before encouraging your loved one to talk to their doctor.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a loss of mental function resulting from a variety of diseases and conditions. Dementia is not a disease. It is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms which occur together (known as a syndrome) that affect your thinking, memory, reasoning, personality, mood, and behavior. In most cases, the loss of mental function is permanent. However, in rare cases, depending on its underlying cause, dementia can be reversed by treating the cause. Although dementia is more common among elderly people than young people, it is not a normal part of the aging process.
Having one or two of the early warning signs does not mean you have dementia. To be diagnosed with dementia, the decline in your mental function must be evident in several areas, and the decline must significantly affect your daily life.
What is the difference between Dementia vs Alzheimer’s disease?
Dementia often gets confused with Alzheimer’s disease and the two terms are mistakenly used interchangeably. Simply stated, here is the difference between the two:
- Dementia is a syndrome that can be caused by one or more of several diseases and medical conditions.
- Alzheimer’s disease is one of the causes of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the accumulation of tangles and clumps of protein in and around brain cells. These tangles and clumps make it difficult for brain cells to communicate with one another, and can eventually kill the cells. Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease can make it impossible for you to carry out even simple tasks. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
What causes dementia?
Dementia is caused by damage to your brain. The brain damage can be caused by many diseases and medical conditions. Often more than one underlying cause contributes to an individual’s dementia
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. It contributes to 60% – 75% of all dementia cases.
Vascular disease is the second most common cause of dementia. It contributes to 15% – 20% of all dementia cases. Vascular dementia is the result of damage to blood vessels in your brain. You are at higher risk of vascular dementia if you have high blood pressure over a long period of time, if you have hardening of the arteries or if you have had a stroke.
Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disease contribute to the vast majority of dementia cases, but there are other potential causes:
- Frontotemporal disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lewy body disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Severe head injury
- Long-term drug and alcohol abuse
Other conditions that can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms include:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Some infections
- Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)
- Reactions to certain medications
- Brain tumor
- Heart and lung disease
Is dementia hereditary?
If you or a loved one has dementia, you are probably concerned whether or not it can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetics can play a role in dementia; but many other factors contribute.
Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease
In 95% of all cases, Alzheimer’s disease is not inherited. Age, not genetics, is the single most important risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease, remember, is the most common type of dementia by far.
Vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, is not passed down from parent to child. However, parents can pass down certain genes that increase the risk of vascular disease which can contribute to dementia. These are the same genes that increase the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Frontotemporal dementia is relatively rare compared to Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia. However, some types of frontotemporal dementia can be passed down from parent to child. Even so, most frontotemporal dementia is not directly inherited.
All other types of dementia
There are rare types of dementia with strong genetic links that can be inherited. The important thing to remember is that the vast majority of people with dementia did not inherit it from their parents and will not pass it down to their children.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
Dementia progresses in stages. The number and severity of the symptoms of dementia will depend on its current stage. The list of early warning signs provided at the beginning of this article basically describes the symptoms of advanced stage dementia as well. As dementia advances from one stage to the next, more signs and symptoms will become evident, they will become more pronounced and they will occur more frequently.
In the final stages of dementia, you can experience hallucinations, lose your ability to talk and need assistance with almost all activities of daily living.
How is dementia diagnosed?
If you suspect early warning signs of dementia are present, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor can assess whether a treatable condition is causing the symptoms you are experiencing or can confirm the presence of dementia along with its underlying cause.
To confirm dementia, your doctor can use six types of assessments, including:
- Medical and family history
- Physical examination
- Lab tests
- Cognitive and neurological tests (to measure: reasoning, memory, problem-solving, language skills, judgment, visual perception, movement, balance, reflexes, senses, etc.)
- Brain imaging (CT, MRI or PET scans)
- Psychiatric evaluation
What dementia treatments are available?
Treatments are available for most types of dementia. Although dementia is usually not reversible or curable, treatments will help slow the progression of dementia from one stage to the next, help you manage symptoms and offer support in living with dementia. Your treatment plan will depend upon the underlying causes and the current stage of your dementia.
Treatments may include medications to help with:
Treatments may include therapies to help you:
- Manage symptoms
- Be safer in your home
- Learn new ways to perform activities of daily living
- Prepare for the progression of dementia
How to prevent dementia
Dementia cannot be prevented, but there are things you can do to decrease your risk of having dementia. Generally, the best advice is to have a lifestyle that cares for your physical, mental and spiritual health. Specifically:
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes 5 times per week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
- Keep your brain engaged by learning new things, participating in hobbies, reading and solving puzzles.
- Stay socially engaged by interacting with people, participating in community activities, attending church or getting involved in support groups.
How can Diversity Home Health Group help?
If you or a loved one has dementia, Diversity Home Health Group offers a wide range of services that can help. Here are just a couple of those services:
You can benefit from the Occupational Therapy services offered by Diversity Home Health Group as your physical and mental symptoms of dementia progress. Our therapists can help you learn new ways to perform daily activities of living and remain in your home longer. Our occupational therapy can be provided as an in-home service. Essentially, the goal of occupational therapy is to allow you to function independently in your own home and in your own community. In-home occupational therapy provides practical instruction and techniques for doing just that.
Following a diagnosis of dementia, many changes will occur in your life. Coping with those changes can be overwhelming for you and your caregiver. Medical social workers are experienced and skilled at coordinating all the different aspects of coping with dementia. Many wonderful resources are available in our community for people with dementia, and our social workers know where the resources are and how to access them. They can help reduce the stress and anxiety of trying to make sense of all the changes and challenges brought on by dementia so that you can focus on living a quality life.