A loved one showing symptoms of dementia needs to see a medical expert who can conduct tests and come up with a diagnosis. If a loved one has dementia, you’ll want to plan how you will manage that care, especially as the condition progresses.
But it’s also important to rule out other medical conditions with dementia-like symptoms that may disappear with treatment such as infections and side effects of medications.
What to watch for
Here are some of the warning signs identified by dementia experts and mental health organizations:
• Difficulty with everyday tasks. Everyone makes mistakes, but people with dementia may find it increasingly difficult to do things like keep track of monthly bills or follow a recipe while cooking, the Alzheimer’s Association says.
They also may find it hard to concentrate on tasks, take much longer to do them or have trouble finishing them.
• Repetition. Asking a question, hearing the answer and then repeating the same question 15 minutes later, or telling the same story about a recent event multiple times, are causes for concern, internist and geriatric specialist Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, noted in a 2018 article for AARP.
• Communication problems. Observe if a loved one has trouble joining in conversations or following along with them, stops abruptly in the middle of a thought or struggles to think of words or the name of objects.
• Getting lost. People with dementia may have difficulty with visual and spatial abilities. That can manifest itself in problems like getting lost while driving, according to the Mayo Clinic.
• Personality changes. A loved one who begins acting unusually anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious; becomes upset easily; or loses interest in activities and seems depressed is cause for concern.
• Confusion about time and place. Loved ones who forget where they are or can’t remember how they got there should raise alarms. Another worrisome sign is a person becoming disoriented about time — for example, asking on a Friday whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, according to Karlawish.
• Troubling behavior. If your family member seems to have increasingly poor judgment when handling money or neglects grooming and cleanliness, pay attention.
Some people who experience memory loss or have difficulty with attention, decision-making language or reasoning may have a condition known as mild cognitive impairment. The condition causes a noticeable decline, but the changes are less severe than with dementia and a person can still perform normal daily activities, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
People with mild cognitive impairment are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
Where to find help
When your loved one is displaying troubling symptoms, a trip to the primary physician is often the first step. But to get a definitive diagnosis, you’ll need to see a specialist such as a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist.
If you can’t find one, the National Institute on Aging recommends contacting the neurology department of a nearby medical school. Some hospitals also have clinics that focus on dementia.