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How to Identify Signs of Dementia

What is dementia?

As we mentioned, dementia is a term used to generally describe symptoms that cause a cognitive impact on daily life. The precursor disease may be something manageable like Alzheimer’s disease or depression, something treatable like an infection or side-effects from a medication, or it may be caused by a mix of a few things.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60-80% of cases. Early identification of dementia can prove very helpful in preparing a long-term management or treatment plan.

Early signs of dementia

The early signs of dementia will vary by individual and cause, and the severity may be mild, moderate, or severe. While this list is not exhaustive, we hope you find it helpful for the early identification of dementia. If you’re concerned, it’s always best to check with a doctor/primary care physician (PCP) for proper diagnosis because treatment options will vary depending on the underlying cause.

Some common early signs of dementia:

  • Memory problems. This is a vague umbrella term with wide potential meaning. To clarify, memory problems may range from mild to severe. Mild may include examples like forgetting the name or face of someone recently introduced, misplacing items more frequently, etc. Moderate may include examples like temporarily forgetting the way home on a frequently used route, asking questions more than twice, or getting turned around more easily. The memory loss manifestations may also be more severe, but since the memory problems are typically progressive in nature (meaning that they get worse over time), early diagnosis would likely be in the mild-to-moderate categories.

  • Difficulty with numbers or finding the right words in a sentence. Examples of this vary but include hesitating to use someone’s name (even if they know them very well), fighting to find the right word in a conversation more often, or struggling to count change at the cash register.

  • Acting withdrawn from others or feeling overwhelmed by planned events.

  • Physical symptoms. Some people experience difficulty walking or a change in their normal strut/walking style. They may also show signs of general physical slowing beyond their walking style. Note: Stroke-like physical symptoms are possible, including muscle weakness or temporary paralysis on one side of the body. These symptoms are less common and are often caused by vascular dementia. Please seek medical attention urgently if your loved one is experiencing these symptoms.

  • Mood changes. This includes longer-term mood changes like depression and/or quick/extreme emotional reactions to situations that don’t warrant it.

  • Visual Hallucinations. Your loved one may report seeing someone that isn’t there or finding their brain temporarily wandering to past decades/periods in their life (mentioning people that have passed in the present-tense as if they are still here).

  • Difficulty sleeping.

As you can see, the signs of dementia vary drastically, so if these or other concerning symptoms are making an appearance in a loved one, we recommend visiting your loved one’s PCP for a proper diagnosis and care or treatment plan.

How to Find Help: Caregivers Managing a Loved One with Dementia.

If you are currently caring for a loved one struggling with dementia, you are not alone.

Dementia is more often than not a progressive diagnosis. So even if you feel you have it under control now, you’ll face new challenges or need to learn new skills to continue providing care over time. If you’re caring for a loved one with dementia in Orange County, CRC OC is here to support you. Think of us as your free local support system armed with the knowledge, training, resources, community, and experience to walk through it beside you.

Check out our free resources for Orange County caregivers by clicking here or give us a call at 800-543-8312 to learn more about how we can help you and your family.


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