As a significant proportion of the population reaches a mature age, many families worry about the health of their loved ones. A common fear among family members is how dementia is diagnosed at an early stage. Dementia, a name given to describe many specific memory diseases, affects about 10% of Americans, although the social stigma surrounding this illness makes many people think that the numbers are higher.
How is Dementia Diagnosed?
Dementia has many stages and forms, but most people are only aware of the late-stage symptoms that can be the most frightening and upsetting. Because these are the more well-known symptoms, it can become challenging to understand what the early signs of dementia are.
It's essential to try and get a dementia diagnosis as soon as possible so the best treatment plan can be put in place, meaning it's equally important to know what the earliest signs of dementia are and how to recognize them in your loved ones.
Here are some of the tests that may be used to diagnose dementia:
- A medical history and physical exam: The doctor will ask about your loved one's symptoms and medical history. They will also perform a physical exam to look for signs of dementia, such as changes in memory, language, or behavior.
- Neuropsychological testing: This type of testing assesses your loved one's cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving.
- Brain imaging: This may include a CT scan or MRI, which can help to rule out other causes of dementia, such as a stroke or brain tumor.
- Blood tests: These tests can help to rule out other medical conditions that can cause memory loss, such as vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems
5 Signs of Dementia That You Shouldn't Ignore
The most well-known and obvious sign to spot for dementia is memory loss. After all, dementia is another name for memory disease. But memory loss can mean different things, and it's essential to know when something could be a sign of dementia and when a behavior is part of the normal aging process.
More than simple forgetfulness, such as blanking on a name or word but then remembering it later, isn't necessarily the type of sign you need to be looking for. A more significant sign of memory loss is forgetting the name of a close relative or friend and being unable to recall it later.
A good indicator of whether memory loss is a simple brain lapse or a severe sign is if the memory loss is interfering with the daily life of your loved one. For example, if they can no longer hold a conversation because they forget names, dates, and events, it could be an early dementia warning sign.
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Another critical indicator of oncoming dementia is confusion. While not as unmistakable as forgetting names of relatives, confusion can often result from other, less obvious, characteristics of memory loss. If an elderly family member is more confused than usual, such as not understanding where they are, what day or time it is, or whom they are talking to, it could be pointing to a more severe problem than a simple senior moment.
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Changes in Attitude
If you notice abrupt changes in attitude from senior family members, it could be another early sign of approaching dementia. Sometimes people suffering from early dementia symptoms will become angry, irritable, aggressive, scared, or anxious. Usually, these behavioral changes are because they fear what's happening to them and are either lashing out or withdrawing from confusion.
A significant shift in overall personality is another warning sign to be aware of, such as a typical social person becoming reclusive or a usually shy person suddenly becoming more outgoing and reckless.
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Dementia affects more in the brain than just memory, and a person's cognitive thinking and mental abilities are often damaged by dementia. Early dementia symptoms can be represented by difficulty with things like:
- Complex thinking
- Following directions
- Simple math
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Problems with Speaking or Writing
If your loved one stumbles over words occasionally as they continue to age, there isn't a reason to get overly concerned. However, if your highly well-spoken relative struggles to remember even essential words and forgets what simple phrases mean, it could be a sign of something more severe.
Similarly, if you notice that a loved one can no longer write how they used to and is using increasingly poor grammar and spelling, it could be another early dementia warning sign.
A Helpful Reminder
In today's world, we can sometimes be hypervigilant when searching for signs of dementia. While getting an early diagnosis is essential, we can also be slightly paranoid about our loved one's health.
It's normal for seniors to have a few lapses in memory and some mood changes as they age, so not every dropped word and misplaced item is a reason for alarm. However, if you notice a possible symptom worsening or several signs presenting together, you may want to consider talking to your loved one.
Keep your senior family members informed about your suspicions, and don't exclude them from your decisions. If you think a doctor's trip is necessary, go with your loved one to show support. Working together as a family is always the best way to approach serious health issues, including dementia.
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