The Warning Signs: Is it a type of dementia or something else?

By: Tiffany Cloud-Mann, M.Ed.

More than likely you have known someone affected in some way by Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Maybe it is your neighbor’s mom, your coworker’s husband, or someone you met in the grocery store this week. It is important to know that dementia is a general term that represents symptoms such as trouble with memory, thinking and judgement making. When someone thinks their loved one is experiencing dementia symptoms, the question they should ask their doctors is, “What is causing the dementia?” Seventy percent of the time, dementia is caused from Alzheimer’s; and that is why you hear Alzheimer’s and dementia used interchangeably. You need to know that Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not cookie cutter diseases, everyone expresses them differently. I am going to share with you the 10 Warning signs of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. You do not need all 10 to be concerned about yourself or someone you love. There are physical and mental health ailments that look like dementia, that could be causing your loved one’s cognitive changes. It’s important those are investigated first. Things like vitamin deficiencies, hormonal changes, thyroid problems, and severe depression, can mimic dementia. If these things get severe enough, you may think your loved has Alzheimer’s, but once these ailments are addressed, their dementia symptoms should subside. Sometimes early symptoms are difficult to detect, and you may not notice them until you think back overtime. I have seen where an illness, death of a close family member or traumatic event can get the dementia ball-rolling in those that were already experiencing minimal symptoms. If you are concerned about someone’s memory, keep in close contact with them during this COVID-19 crisis, as you may find that the stress of everything and social isolation sheds light on memory concerns. It is important to know that there are normal changes to our cognition as we age. Just as we may not run as swiftly as we once did, we also may not think as sharply. I am going to share with you the 10 Warning Signs and compare it to a normal age-related change. Reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association, alz.org or 1-800-272-3900, to get more information about the warning signs and next steps. 

Warning sign versus typical age-related change

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life versus ometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later. The key word here is “daily”. When someone’s memory changes start to affect their quality of life regularly, it is time to talk to their doctor. 
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems versus making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills. You may see your loved one having difficulty managing their finances or following a recipe. 
  3. Difficult completing familiar tasks versus occasionally needing help to using microwave settings or to record a TV show. What stands out to me is when people start having trouble with tasks or skills they have always been good at. Meaning these are things that you think of when you think of this person, such as she’s always been a great cook, he was so skilled in his job or he knew everything about a particular hobby, and now you notice they are having trouble. As the disease progresses you will see them start to have trouble with familiar everyday tasks like making a sandwich, taking a shower, etc. 
  4. Confusion with time or place versus getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later. You may see your loved one have trouble with tracking dates and seasons, or even where they are or how they got somewhere. 
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships versus vision changes related to cataracts. If you start to see your loved falling for unknown reasons or having minor driving accidents, this may be a sign they are having trouble interpreting what they are seeing correctly. 
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing versus sometimes having trouble finding the right word. Remember, communication is a two-way street. You may see your loved one having trouble with participating in conversation or with accessing vocabulary. You may also figure out that they are having trouble retaining or comprehending what you are saying. As the disease progresses, you will need to become an investigator to gather what they need, want, feel or what is bothering them. 
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps vesus misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them. You may see your loved one accuse someone of stealing from them, as the disease causes confusion, fear and possibly paranoia. A caregiver tip may be to duplicate items they typically misplace to prevent the stress created in trying to find the items. 
  8. Decreased or poor judgement versus making a bad decision or mistake occasionally, like neglecting to change the oil in the car. This is where you may see someone spending large amounts of money on things they do not need, giving away money out of character, or putting themselves in unsafe situations. 
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities versus sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations. The person experiencing cognitive changes may recognize changes in themselves and withdrawal from usual activities because they do not want anyone to notice the changes in themselves. They may also withdrawal because they are not as in-tune with the routine of the day or week. 
  10. Changes in mood and personality versus developing specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted. As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, this is not a cookie-cutter disease, therefore personality changes are different for everyone. Some people do a 180 degree turn and personality totally changes (good or bad), or some individuals do not change a lot, but their traits may get a bit more extreme. It is important to remember that self-awareness is affected with the disease, therefore, they may not be aware of the changes or their actions. 

 

A couple tips to leave you with: You can discuss memory concerns with your loved one in a gentle way, without using the “A” word (Alzheimer’s). You can say things like, “Have you noticed that you are having trouble with things you used to not have trouble with?” If you notice any signs in yourself or someone you love, go see your doctor. Remember, it might not be Alzheimer’s at all. If it is a type of dementia, early detection matters! If you know what is going on, you can get resources in place, educate yourself, and provide quality-of-life for you and your loved one. Lastly, research is the only way to find a cure, and there are all kinds of studies both for healthy volunteers and those with the disease. 

 

Care Managers can help families wherever they are on the dementia journey. We can be there to help with evaluating and assessing the greatest needs to putting services in place. We can help figure out whether dementia is present or mimicking dementia, and then walk alongside you in the journey. Call LifeLinks today to learn more! 

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