Dementia: It’s More than Just Memory Loss

When you think of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the first symptom that comes to mind is likely memory loss. While this is the hallmark characteristic of dementia, it’s far from the only one.

The cognitive decline associated with memory loss includes many other associated challenges in everyday life. These difficulties may affect:

  • Communication: The ability to understand language, let alone read or write, declines with dementia. It can even become more challenging to remember certain words or find the right words when speaking. This makes it more important than ever for the caregiver to examine visual clues, such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions, to understand what their loved one is trying to communicate.
  • Motor skills: The part of the brain controlling coordination is affected by dementia. For instance, your elderly loved one may begin to walk slower, have trouble tying their shoes, or cutting their food. If you are a caregiver, you can help by watching for potential safety hazards, such as things they could trip on that would cause injury.
  • Attention: The ability to stay mentally engaged is compromised by dementia. This means it becomes harder to pay attention to completing a single task, or staying engaged in a conversation. Over time, they may be overwhelmed by overstimulation if there are too many things to look at or listen to. Try not to overwhelm your loved one with overstimulation, such as bringing him or her to a loud, unfamiliar restaurant.
  • Judgement: This is the result of an accumulation of issues, such as being preyed on by a con artist, or simply not staying on top of paying their bills. Watch for changes in their ability to make plans or solve problems. This isn’t just a one-off, bad decision that anyone can make as a normal part of growing older. For those with dementia, it is a pervasive problem. Caregivers should be attentive to their loved ones’ needs.
  • Personality: A typical, age-related change is becoming irritable when their routine is interrupted; for example, not being able to watch the morning news because of another obligation. The personality changes displayed by a person with dementia may include being suspicious, fearful, anxious, or depressed. They may be easily frustrated, especially if out of their comfort zone. They may also withdraw from former social circles and enjoyable activities as their personality changes over time.

There are distinct differences between the typical, age-related changes everyone experiences as part of growing older and the signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. It shouldn’t alarm you if you’ve noticed your elderly mother losing her keys every so often, but if she has trouble retracing her steps to find them, it could indicate the need to bring her to the doctor. Similarly, if your uncle forgot to pay the light bill one month, it may be just a one-off mistake. However, if they become completely unable to manage a budget, this could be a sign of dementia.

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