While increased awareness is certainly a good thing, it’s difficult to distinguish between the common effects of aging and signs of early-stage dementia.
Keep in mind that there are still no medical tests to confirm dementia or Alzheimer’s with absolute certainty, so it’s even a challenge for medical professionals to draw the line between senility and dementia.
So, while it’s important to keep an eye out for the 10 signs of dementia in aging family members, it’s even more important to be patient and supportive.
Even if you’ve heard the same story 10 times today and triple that over the course of the week, it’s critical to preserve the senior’s sense of dignity and respect — especially if you suspect that they’re showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Is Repeating Yourself a Sign of Dementia?
What does it mean when a person keeps repeating themselves? It may be a sign of dementia, though it hinges significantly on the context of the situation.
When we’re talking about a senior who repeats the same stories at family gatherings, that’s probably not a sign of dementia. Rather, it’s the senior’s way of contemplating their legacy and important life lessons through the sharing of meaningful experiences.
In other words, when your father tells the same WWII story every time the grandkids are gathered around the fireplace, it’s his way of searching his memories for meaning and sharing those life lessons to secure his legacy with future generations.
After all, we all want to be remembered and leave a mark in the world — especially with our friends and family.
However, if a senior continues to repeat themselves in a single day — perhaps telling you for the fifth time that they saw an old friend yesterday, or reminding you over and over that they have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow — that could be a sign of short-term memory problems that may be associated with early-stage dementia.
In such cases, it’s important to evaluate this potential symptom in conjunction with the other 10 signs of dementia. You can’t make a diagnosis on this fact alone as memory loss is an expected part of aging and senility, but it could be an important piece of the overall puzzle.
How Do I Know if My Parent has Dementia?
To determine whether your loved one may be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, consider the following 10 warning signs of dementia:
- Misplacing things
- Losing track of time, seasons, and dates
- Memory loss – difficulty remembering things that just happened
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Poor judgement
- Inability to make plans and solve problems
- Vision problems, poor spatial skills
- Personality, mood, and behavior changes
- Struggling with conversations
- Withdrawal from social and work activities
1. Misplacing Things
Most of us are frequently guilty of temporarily misplacing keys, wallets, and phones, but it’s a far more pervasive issue with dementia patients. In addition to forgetting where common items are, a senior with dementia may not understand what they’re for.
Similarly, seniors with dementia will struggle to retrace their steps when looking for a lost item, and they may put items in unusual places. In serious cases, they may accuse others of stealing when they cannot find what they’re looking for.
2. Losing Track of Time, Seasons, and Dates
Dementia patients often have a difficult time understanding the concept of past and future. If it isn’t happening now, it may not make sense to them.
This spills over into confusion with dates and time, making it difficult to set and keep appointments. As the disease progresses, the past may become so blurry that they can forget where they are and how they got there.
3. Memory Loss – Difficulty Remembering Things That Just Happened
While it’s normal to occasionally forget appointments, a senior with dementia may forget scheduled appointments more often. They often rely on family members and reminder notes to handle daily tasks, to the point that they may not remember appointments at all on their own.
4. Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks
Seniors with dementia often struggle to complete familiar tasks like playing a favorite game, following a recipe for a meal, or driving to a familiar destination.
5. Poor Judgement
Seniors with dementia often make poor decisions. They may stop grooming themselves, showering, eating, or dressing appropriately.
Unfortunately, this often turns into a money issue, as dementia patients can frivolously give money away and fall victim to scams.
6. Inability to Make Plans and Solve Problems
Seniors with dementia may struggle to track their bills and finances. They may find simple math problems too challenging, and often take significantly longer to solve problems.
7. Vision Problems, Poor Spatial Skills
Dementia patients may struggle to discern distance and direction, which makes driving a vehicle very difficult. They may also experience difficulty identifying colors and reading.
8. Personality, Mood, and Behavior Changes
Occasionally feeling sad or moody is normal, but dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can lead to rapid, inexplicable mood changes. This often occurs when the senior is away from home, as they become upset when they’re out of their comfort zone or daily routine.
It’s important to keep an eye out for increased anxiety, suspicion, depression, confusion, and social withdrawal. At the same time, the disease can also lead to more dramatic upswings, so you should watch out for significant, inexplicable mood swings in both directions.
9. Struggling with Conversations
Most people will struggle to find the right word from time to time, but a senior with dementia will frequently forget even the simplest words. They may substitute inappropriate words, struggle to formulate a sentence, and prove unable to join and follow conversations.
Here’s where repeating yourself comes into play. While repeating a favorite story at family events isn’t necessarily a red flag, repeating the same story or idea multiple times in a single conversation is.
10. Withdrawal from Social and Work Activities
Dementia may cause a senior to lose interest in their hobbies and favorite activities, or require others to prompt them to remain involved. Coupled with the other signs of dementia that we’ve discussed, this often results in avoiding social situations altogether.