Twilight Zone

Early warning signs of dementia every adult should know

By Barbara Pierce

dementiaBeing diagnosed with dementia is the biggest fear of older people. Fear of how it will impact them means that often people showing early signs of dementia put off being diagnosed.

Dementia is profoundly life- changing. When diagnosed, reactions range from dismay and deep sadness to anger and despair.

But there are benefits to an early diagnosis. A person showing symptoms of dementia may in fact be suffering from a treatable condition, like depression or a side effect from medication.

Also, an early diagnosis helps people plan ahead while they are still able to make important decisions for their future. It also helps them and their families receive practical information, advice and guidance as they face new challenges.

For some, diagnosis is a relief, providing answers for a failing memory, communication problems and changes in behavior.

“Being diagnosed with something like this absolutely devastates you,” said 50-year-old Norman McNamara on his YouTube video. “But for me — and this is going to sound really strange — it was probably the best news I had at the time. Because I thought I was losing my mind. I thought there was a conspiracy against me.

“Once diagnosed, I knew what I was up against. If I hadn’t been diagnosed early and seen by specialists on a regular basis, I wouldn’t be as well as I am today. I’m prepared for my future.”

Claire Corwin, associate care manager, Alzheimer’s Association of Central New York, shared early signs of dementia:

— Memory loss that disrupts daily life. We all forget names and appointments sometimes, but usually remember later, and that’s normal. But if you forget important dates or events, ask the same question over and over, or put your keys in the freezer and can’t remember where you put them, that’s disruptive.

— Challenges in planning or problem solving and changes in your ability to plan things. For example, if I have to be at work at 8:30 and it takes 20 minutes to get there, and I leave at 8:25, that’s poor planning. It could be the person who usually plans all the holiday parties and has trouble organizing, or even has trouble with day-to-day schedules. If I can no longer follow a favorite recipe or keep track of monthly bills, or have difficulty concentrating, it is time to heed the warning signs.

— Difficulty completing familiar tasks. I can no longer do something familiar; for example, I’m good at balancing my checkbook and meticulous about it. However, if that becomes an issue for me, this is a warning sign. Or I may get lost when driving to a familiar location, or forget how to play a favorite game.

— Confusion with time and place. It’s 3 in the afternoon, but I insist on getting a cup of coffee so I can be ready to go. Or, I’m at a public park and don’t know where I am or how I got there. That’s scary.

— Difficulty understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For example, I’m looking at my coffee cup, but I can’t pick it up right and I spill the coffee before I drink it. Or, I feel like I’m having vision problems because I have trouble reading. I may have problems judging distance, causing issues driving.

— Problems with words. I have trouble spelling, though I’ve always been a good speller. Or I can’t remember familiar words, and may call a watch a “hand clock.” I may have difficulty following a conversation, or get stuck in the middle of a conversation. I struggle to find the right word in conversation or on paper.

— Misplacing things and losing ability to retrace my steps. I may put things in unusual places, i.e. keys in the freezer. I may lose things and be unable to go back over my steps to find them again. I may accuse others of stealing my things.

— Decreased or poor judgment. For example, I’m driving 35 mph and pull out into 65-mph traffic. That’s a terrible decision and poor judgment. Or, I tell someone what I really think of them, while I never would have said those things before.

I may pay less attention to my personal grooming.

— Withdrawal from work or social activities. I feel incompetent to do things I once did, so withdraw from doing those activities I used to do. I may have trouble holding or following a conversation, so I withdraw from being around people.

— Changes in mood or personality. I’ve always been a quiet person, now all of sudden I’m speaking out. Or I may become suspicious, confused, anxious, and easily upset, especially when I’m out of my comfort zone.

In fact, researchers found heightened anxiety could be one of the earliest signs of dementia because it shows up even before memory loss.

If you notice that you or a loved one experiences any of these subtle but possibly serious symptoms, don’t ignore them, stressed Corwin. “Contact your primary physician and go from there,” she said.

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