Sometimes “good morning” can be the scariest thing a parent can say.
When it comes at 7 o’clock in the evening, it can make your heart sink and your mind race. You start to wonder, did Mom make a little slip of the tongue or does she think it’s still morning? Is this a bit of mental fogginess on Dad’s part or is it a sign of something deeper?
If you’re asking yourself similar questions after spending time with a parent, it might be time to start thinking about the possibility of dementia.
It’s a scary thought but the good news is there’s a lot of help out there. You’re not alone. So let’s tackle this one step at a time.
The first step? Determining if it is in fact dementia.
Normal Memory Loss vs Dementia
Memory loss is a normal part of life. At any age, it may be caused by stress, vitamin B-12 deficiency, depression or a host of other reasons.
We usually dismiss these occasional lapses until our parents reach a certain age. Then, we start to notice their conversation and actions much more, especially if Mom forgets the name of the person they met just yesterday or Dad can’t find his car keys.
And while our parents may resent it if the additional attention becomes too intrusive, it’s important we watch for early signs of dementia, because the earlier it’s diagnosed, the greater the likelihood treatment can prolong memory and cognition.
Here’s a quick chart to help you distinguish between normal memory loss and dementia symptoms:
|Normal Memory Loss||Symptom of Dementia|
|Occasionally losing keys, glasses or other frequently-used items||Frequently losing keys, glasses and other items and being unable to retrace their steps to find them|
|Forgetting the name of an acquaintance||Forgetting the name of a close friend or family member|
|Calling the grandson by their son’s name||Not recognizing their grandson at all|
|Being distracted from a conversation||Not being able to follow the conversation|
|Getting lost going someplace new||Getting lost going to their local grocery store or doctor|
|Irritability from sleep disturbance||Uncharacteristic change in behavior|
|Forgetting the exact date||Forgetting what day of the week it is|
|Forgetting to balance the checkbook||Inability to perform basic computations|
|Inability to come up with a word that’s on the tip of their tongue||Forgetting common words or using made-up terms to describe common objects, such as floor cover instead of carpet|
|Normal sadness or grief||Depression|
|Forgetting an appointment||Being unable to tell time|
|Getting lost occasionally||Getting lost in their home or yours|
|Difficulty learning new words||Inability to write or use familiar words|
|Occasionally forgetting something they’ve been told||Repeating a chore or an action again and again|
|Resistance to change||Fear of any change in routine|
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Real-Life Examples of Dementia Warning Signs
Additional warning signs include withdrawing from activities they formerly enjoyed. For example, if Dad decides to convert his garage workshop back to a garage, you may want to look into the reasons why. If your parents played bridge every Saturday night for years, then stopped, dig deeper.
Sudden mood swings for no apparent reason are a precursor to dementia. Men, especially, seem to become more aggressive when they develop dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association cautions that the reason may be discomfort or confusion they’re unable to adequately express and can usually be prevented.
A change in hygiene habits may be a symptom of several problems. Your parent could be depressed, which itself is viewed as a precursor to dementia. Your parent could be afraid of slipping and falling in the bath. Or your parent may be experiencing symptoms of dementia.
Is your parent dressed unseasonably for the weather, perhaps wearing a winter coat in the summer or putting on street clothes over their pajamas? That is another warning sign they have lost track of time.
If your parent forgets the last time they ate, even if they just had breakfast, they may eat too much. Losing weight is also a symptom, because some older adults forget they’re hungry and don’t eat enough. Both of these may be symptoms of other illnesses, so make sure you consult your parent’s doctor.
When To See a Doctor
If you’re concerned your parent may be developing dementia, the first step is to get them to their doctor’s office. If you were looking at those symptoms above and thinking a lot of them sounded like your parent, it’s probably time to pay the family physician a visit.
Symptoms of other illnesses or diseases may resemble those of dementia, and many of them are treatable. AARP notes 8 disorders, common among seniors, that are often mistaken for dementia but are treatable:
- Urinary tract infections
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus
- Medication interactions
- Depression or another mental health disorder
- Thyroid disease
- Vitamin B-12 deficiency
- Alcohol abuse
If you are concerned your parent may have any of these illnesses or diseases, consult your parent’s doctor for appropriate treatment.
Risk Reduction Strategies for Dementia
Maybe dementia will never affect your parents. Maybe they’ll be as sharp at 90 as they were when you were growing up. Nevertheless, you worry.
You worry because you love your parents, and you don’t want to lose them to such a terrible disease. And there’s that niggling thought in your head that if Alzheimer’s is caused by environmental toxins, you or your children may have been exposed, too.
Instead of — or, perhaps, in addition to — worrying, why not do all you can to prevent your parents — and yourself — from developing Alzheimer’s? Why not reduce their risk factors?
What Are The Risk Factors for Dementia?
Risk factor is a term that is thrown about quite frequently by scientists. It is nothing more than “an attribute, characteristic or exposure of an individual that increases the likelihood of developing a disease or injury.” A risk factor for a number of illnesses, including skin cancer, is age, because, while the disease’s genesis may have occurred when you were younger (those sunburns when you were a child), the disease did not occur until you were older.
The National Institutes of Health and other researchers have identified the following as risk factors for dementia:
Age. Approximately 1 in 70 people ages 65 to 69 have dementia. Almost a quarter of people ages 85 to 89 have dementia.
Alcohol use. Alcohol-related brain damage may be caused by drinking too much.
Atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries can lead to a stroke, which causes vascular dementia. High levels of LDL cholesterol have also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.
Diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes frequently leads to stroke, which can cause vascular dementia. There is some evidence that even controlled diabetes may lead to dementia, but it’s slim.
Genetics. Dementia is not inherited, but certain genetic factors may predispose your parents and you to developing dementia.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) and Cardiovascular Disease. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease can lead to stroke, which may cause vascular dementia, so they’ve always been considered risk factors. However, new research indicates that the development of high blood pressure later in life may actually protect the brain from dementia. The study used data from people 90 years and older.
Depression. Scientists have several theories regarding the correlation between depression and dementia. One is that depression is an early sign of dementia, and the other is that depression damages the brain, leading to dementia.
Smoking. Smokers have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers. The World Health Organization includes second-hand smoke as a risk factor.
Head injury. Statistics show people aged 55 and older who sustained traumatic brain injury have a significantly increased risk of developing dementia. Among people 65 and older, mild brain injury increased dementia risk, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology. More than half of all cases of traumatic brain injury in older adults are caused by falls.
Overweight. If your parents were overweight or obese when they were in their 40s, they have an increased risk of developing dementia.
How to Lower the Risk of Dementia
Obviously, you can’t do anything about some risk factors, but you can reduce your and your parents’ risk of dementia by taking steps now. Alzheimer’s International advocates these 5 practices to reduce the risk of developing dementia:
- Exercise. A study in the United Kingdom found that physical exercise was the most effective way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in otherwise healthy older adults. The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate-activity exercise each week.
- Nutrition. The Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian diet are proven to prevent cognitive decline.
- Cognitive training. Learning a new skill, playing video and other games, and participating in other mind-sharpening activities prevent dementia.
- Social activities. Engagement in social activities decreases the risk of dementia.
- Management of heart health risk factors. This includes keeping your level of “bad” LDL cholesterol low, normal blood pressure and weight, reasonable alcohol use, no smoking and even lowering stress to obtain optimal heart health.
Additional Help for Adult Children Concerned about Dementia
We can’t possibly cover all aspects of dementia in one article. However, our Wellness Blog was created to provide you a library of information to answer questions you may have about your parents as they grow older. Topics range from mind-body health to how prayer can prevent caregiver stress.
Other sources of information about dementia include:
The Esquiline Fosters Wellness
Physical wellness, intellectual wellness, social wellness, and spiritual wellness are not only methods to prevent dementia; they are the four pillars of well-being at The Esquiline.
As a continuing care community, we offer independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing under one roof to meet the needs of your parents. Find out more about The Esquline by calling us at 800-533-6279 or contacting us online today.