Last Updated: April 29, 2024

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How do you know if a parent has dementia, and what can you do about it?

Watching subtle changes in an aging parent can be a heart-wrenching experience, especially when those changes might hint at something as serious as dementia. Millions of families face the daunting challenge of identifying and managing this condition every year. 

Knowing the early signs of dementia can lead to earlier intervention, which might improve quality of life. This article helps you recognize the early warning signs of dementia, empowering you with the knowledge to take timely action for your loved ones. 

While most seniors want to age at home, understanding the signs of dementia can help determine if assisted living or memory care might be a better future path for a safer and more fulfilling life.

What is Dementia?

dementia awareness

Dementia is not a single disease; it’s an overall term — like heart disease — that covers a wide range of specific medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. Disorders grouped under the general term “dementia” are caused by abnormal brain changes. These changes trigger a decline in cognitive abilities severe enough to impair daily life and independent function. They also affect behavior, feelings, and relationships.

Alzheimer’s Disease: A Common Cause of Dementia

dementia and alzheimers awareness (3)

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases, making it the most significant cause of dementia. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over several years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild. But, with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment.

How Big a Problem Is Dementia in the US?

According to the National Institute of Health, an estimated 6.7 million Americans aged 65 and older are currently living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Without any medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow, or cure Alzheimer’s disease, this number could rise to 13.8 million by 2060.

Alzheimer’s disease ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. 

The sooner you recognize the symptoms, the sooner you can help. Below are the top 7 warning signs.

Top 7 Warning Signs Your Parent May Have Dementia

dementia and alzheimers awareness (2)

Knowing the early warning signs of dementia is key to planning your parent’s future and quality of life.

      1. Memory Loss That Affects Daily Activities: One of the most common signs of dementia, especially in the early stages, is forgetting recently learned information. If your parent repeatedly:

  • Forgets important dates or events, 
  • Asks for the same information over and over, or
  • Increasingly needs to rely on memory aids (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own, it might be time to consult a doctor.

     2. Difficulty Performing Familiar Tasks: Pay attention if your parent struggles with completing familiar daily tasks. This could include trouble driving to a known location, organizing a grocery list, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

    3. Problems with Language: Simple conversations can become challenging if your parent can’t remember simple words, or if they call things by the wrong name.

    4. Disorientation to Time and Place: It’s a red flag if your parent loses track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time. They may become confused about where they are or how they got there.

     5. Poor or Decreased Judgment: Look for changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may pay less attention to grooming or cleanliness or show poor judgment when dealing with money, like giving large amounts to telemarketers.

senior dementia alzheimers misplacing items      

     6. Misplacing Things: A person with dementia may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This behavior is a significant change from their past behavior.

     7. Changes in Mood and Personality: The mood and personalities of people with dementia can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, with friends, or outside their comfort zone.

How to Respond to These Signs

If you notice any of these signs in your parent, it’s essential to approach the situation with sensitivity and proactive steps. Schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional specializing in elderly care or neurology. They can conduct tests to diagnose the condition correctly and discuss potential treatment plans. Documenting specific instances of unusual behavior can help medical professionals make a diagnosis.

Recognizing the signs of dementia early on can make a significant difference in the progression of the disease. Early diagnosis and intervention can give your loved one the best chance of benefiting from treatment, managing the symptoms more effectively, and planning for the future. 

If you’re concerned about your parent’s memory or cognitive abilities, don’t wait—consult a healthcare provider to discuss your observations and concerns.

Causes and Types of Dementia: A Comprehensive Overview

Unraveling the Causes of Dementia

Dementia arises from the damage to or loss of nerve cells and their connections in the brain. The specific symptoms and effects of dementia largely depend on the area of the brain that has been impacted. This complex condition manifests differently in every individual, influenced by the nature and extent of brain damage.

Dementias are often categorized based on commonalities, such as the type of protein deposits found in the brain or the particular brain regions affected. Moreover, certain medical conditions mimic dementia-like symptoms, and some medications can induce dementia-like reactions. Nutritional deficiencies, especially in essential vitamins and minerals, can also trigger symptoms that may improve with appropriate treatment.

Progressive Dementias: A Closer Look

Progressive dementias, which worsen over time, are particularly challenging as they are not yet reversible. Below are some of the primary types of progressive dementia:

  1. Alzheimer’s Disease: As the most prevalent cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the gradual accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques are dense clusters of beta-amyloid protein, while tangles are twisted fibers of tau protein. These formations disrupt the normal functioning of brain cells, leading to the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. Although the exact causes of Alzheimer’s are not fully understood, genetic factors, including mutations in three specific genes and the presence of the apolipoprotein E4 (APOE) gene, play significant roles in the risk of developing this condition. blood vessels vascular dementia
  2. Vascular Dementia results from damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain, which can stem from stroke or other vascular conditions. Unlike Alzheimer’s, where memory loss is prominent, vascular dementia often manifests as difficulties in problem-solving, slowed thinking, and issues with focus and organization.
  3. Lewy Body Dementia: This type of dementia is characterized by the presence of Lewy bodies—abnormal balloon-like clumps of protein found in the brain—and shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. People with Lewy body dementia may experience visual hallucinations, act out dreams while asleep, and show signs of parkinsonism, such as uncoordinated movements, tremors, and stiffness.
  4. Frontotemporal Dementia: This category includes several disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, areas generally associated with personality, behavior, and language. Symptoms typically involve changes in behavior and personality, impaired judgment, and language difficulties, alongside potential movement disorders.
  5. Mixed Dementia: Autopsy studies on individuals aged 80 and older who had dementia reveal that many had multiple causes contributing to their condition. Mixed dementia can involve a combination of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Ongoing research aims to understand how mixed dementia influences symptoms and how it should be treated effectively.

Understanding the various causes and types of dementia is crucial for early diagnosis and management. Each type of dementia may require a different approach to care, and recognizing the specific symptoms can lead to more targeted and effective treatments. For families noticing potential dementia signs in their loved ones, gaining this knowledge is the first step toward seeking appropriate medical guidance and support.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Parent Has Dementia

When you begin to notice signs that might indicate dementia in a parent, it can be a deeply troubling experience. However, taking proactive and informed steps can make a significant difference in managing the situation effectively. Here’s a guide on what to do if you suspect your parent is showing signs of dementia: senior dementia alzheimers notes

Document the Symptoms

Start by keeping a detailed record of the symptoms you observe. Note instances of memory lapses, difficulty in performing familiar tasks, changes in mood or behavior, and any other signs that concern you. This documentation should include what symptoms occur, when they occur, and how frequently they appear. Having this information can be invaluable during medical evaluations as it provides concrete examples for healthcare providers to assess.

Communicate Openly with Your Parent

Discuss your observations with your parent in a sensitive and supportive manner. It’s important to express your concerns without causing alarm. Approach the conversation with empathy, ensuring that your parent feels supported and understood, not judged or criticized. This dialogue can help gauge their awareness of the symptoms and their openness to seek medical advice.

senior dementia doctor Consult a Healthcare Professional

Schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional who specializes in elder care or neurological disorders. It’s beneficial to consult a doctor who has experience with dementia, as they can provide a thorough assessment and accurate diagnosis. Be prepared to discuss the history of symptoms and provide the information you’ve documented. The healthcare provider may suggest a variety of diagnostic tests, such as cognitive and neurological assessments, lab tests, and brain imaging studies.

Explore Diagnostic Options

Getting a formal diagnosis is a critical step in understanding what you and your parent are dealing with. A diagnosis not only helps in confirming whether your parent has dementia but also determines the specific type of dementia. This is essential for tailoring the appropriate care and treatment plans. Diagnosis may involve evaluations by multiple specialists, including neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

Plan for the Future

Once a diagnosis is obtained, it’s crucial to start planning for the future. This includes discussing living arrangements, care options, and any legal and financial planning needs. It’s also a good time to discuss and document your parent’s healthcare preferences and any end-of-life care wishes. Consider involving a social worker or a professional elder care manager to help navigate the available services and supports.

Seek Support and Resources

Caring for a parent with dementia is a challenging journey that requires emotional and practical support. Look for caregiver support groups, either locally or online, which can provide advice and a network of peers who understand what you’re going through. Many organizations offer educational resources, support programs, and guidance on care strategies that can be incredibly helpful.

Focus on Quality of Life

Despite the diagnosis, it’s important to focus on maintaining the best possible quality of life for your parent. This includes engaging them in activities they enjoy, ensuring they have social interactions, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise as possible. Adapt home safety to prevent falls or injuries and consider cognitive therapies that can help preserve mental functions.

By following these steps, you can approach the situation with a plan that not only addresses immediate concerns but also sets a foundation for ongoing care and support. Remember, you are not alone in this, and there are resources and communities ready to help you and your parent navigate this challenging time.

Legal Steps to Take When Suspecting Progressive Dementia

senior lawyer professional help

When facing the possibility of a progressive dementia diagnosis for a parent, it’s crucial to take proactive legal steps to ensure their wishes are respected and their affairs are in order. Consulting an elder law attorney can be invaluable in navigating the complex legal landscape associated with aging and dementia care. Here are key legal documents and arrangements you should consider:

  1. Power of Attorney (POA)

Establishing a Power of Attorney is one of the most critical steps. This legal document authorizes someone to act on behalf of your parent in financial and legal matters once they are no longer capable of making decisions for themselves. An elder care attorney can help draft a POA that accurately reflects your parent’s wishes and provides clear guidance on the extent and limitations of the designated agent’s authority.

  1. Health Care Surrogate Designation

Also known as a health care proxy, this document allows your parent to appoint someone to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become unable to do so. This includes decisions about medical treatments, health care providers, and even end-of-life care. An elder care attorney can ensure that the health care surrogate designation complies with state laws and encompasses all necessary aspects of your parent’s health care preferences.

living will declaration senior

  1. Living Will

A living will is a written, legal document that details a person’s preferences regarding medical treatments at the end of their life. Unlike a last will and testament, which deals with the distribution of assets after death, a living will applies while the individual is still alive but incapacitated. It is crucial to ensure that your parent’s medical and end-of-life wishes are honored.

  1. Guardianship/Conservatorship

In situations where no prior legal planning has been done, it might become necessary to establish guardianship or conservatorship. This legal process involves a court appointing an individual to make decisions on behalf of your parent. It is generally pursued only when other options are not available. An elder care attorney can guide you through this complex process and represent your interests in court.

  1. Advance Directives

Ensure that all advance directives, including the health care proxy, living will, and durable power of attorney for health care, are updated and reflect your parent’s current wishes. These documents are crucial for guiding healthcare decisions when your parent may not be able to communicate their desires themselves.

By taking these legal steps with the guidance of an elder care attorney, you can protect your parent’s interests and ensure that their wishes are respected throughout the progression of dementia. This proactive approach not only provides peace of mind to your family but also establishes a clear plan for managing the challenges that may arise as the condition progresses.

Embracing Hope: The Variable Progression of Dementia and Positive Interventions

While the diagnosis of dementia can be daunting, it’s important to remember that not all cases progress in the same way. Many individuals with dementia continue to live rich, fulfilling lives, especially with the right strategies and support. Recent advancements in medicine, along with lifestyle changes, are showing promise in managing, and sometimes even reversing, certain symptoms of dementia. Here’s a look at the optimistic side of managing this condition.

Tailored Approaches to Managing Dementia

The progression of dementia varies widely among individuals, influenced by factors such as the type of dementia, overall health, and the care and treatment they receive. This variability means that with proactive management, many people can maintain a high quality of life for years after diagnosis.

The Role of Diet and Exercise in Dementia

senior active lifestyle exercise Diet and exercise are pivotal in managing dementia. Research suggests that alcohol consumption is a factor and that heart-healthy eating patterns, like the Mediterranean diet, may help protect the brain. Regular physical activity is also crucial, as it can improve cardiovascular health and may help maintain cognitive function. These lifestyle modifications can not only improve health but also enhance the quality of life and independence for those with dementia.

Advances in Medication

dementia and alzheimers awareness There are ongoing advancements in the medications available to treat dementia. These treatments aim to improve symptoms or slow the progression of the disease. While not all forms of dementia can be reversed, medications can significantly affect the management of symptoms and the overall progression of the disease. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new treatment to ensure it is suitable for your parent’s specific situation.

Importance of a Supportive Lifestyle

Maintaining an active, engaged lifestyle can have a profound impact on the well-being of someone with dementia. Social interactions, mental stimulation, and structured routines are beneficial, helping to keep the mind active and slowing the progression of cognitive decline. Simple adjustments to daily life can make a big difference in providing a safe, supportive, and stimulating environment.

Seeking Professional Help

neurologist senior dementia Navigating dementia often requires a team approach. Professionals such as neurologists, geriatric specialists, and therapists can provide valuable guidance and treatment. Support from community resources, dementia care specialists, and support groups can also be instrumental in managing the disease effectively.

Expert Guidance for Navigating Dementia Care with Florida Senior Consulting Advisors

Navigating the complexities of dementia care is overwhelming, but you don’t have to face it alone. 

Let us help.

At Florida Senior Consulting Advisors, we understand the importance of focusing on what individuals with dementia can still do. We’re committed to helping them lead full, engaged lives. We take this commitment so seriously that every one of our team members is a Certified Dementia Practitioner.

We stay abreast of the latest medical treatments, lifestyle changes, and supportive care advancements, ensuring we can offer the most effective strategies and support systems. 

If you’re feeling stressed by the future challenges of managing a loved one’s dementia, let Florida Senior Consulting Advisors guide you.

For expert guidance and a compassionate approach, contact Florida Senior Consulting Advisors at (800) 969-7176 or visit our website at FloridaSeniorConsulting.com

Contact Florida Senior Consulting

(800) 969-7176