Dementia or Normal Aging?
Have you noticed that your aging parent is becoming a bit more forgetful than usual? You might have observed that they are having trouble finding words during conversations or that it takes them a few tries to match the right name with the correct grandchild. Or, perhaps you’ve heard them tell the same story multiple times during a family night out.
Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is certainly a concern anytime forgetfulness is in the picture. However, how can you know when it’s time to get your loved one’s doctor involved? Here’s what you need to know in order to advocate for your loved one.
The first step in understanding the difference between dementia and normal aging is to know the definition of dementia. Dementia is a general term that is used to describe a set of conditions that impair brain functioning and can lead to forgetfulness, language challenges, and problem-solving issues. Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia, and the most common, but there are many other types of dementia that include Lewy Body dementia and vascular dementia.
While the risk of dementia does increase with age, it’s important to note that dementia is not a normal sign of aging. This means that everyone who gets older will not necessarily be confused or have a diagnosis of a type of dementia.
Impact on Daily Life
We have all walked into a room and forgotten why we did. We have all misplaced our phones or our keys. This type of forgetfulness is nothing to be worried about, and can often be a result of our own disorganization or distractions. If you see your loved one doing the same, forgetting things every once in a while, chances are that this is normal aging and not dementia.
The key to knowing when to call the doctor is when their confusion, forgetfulness, disorganization, or language challenges affect daily life. This component of daily life disruption is a foundational piece of diagnosing dementia.
What might that look like? Here are a few examples of how early-stage dementia can show up in daily life:
Your dad stops attending his favorite Breakfast Club meet-up with friends because he says he can’t keep up with the conversation anymore.
Your stepmom is not keeping up with her monthly bills anymore and you notice there are stacks of unopened envelopes on her desk.
Your mom is missing consulting appointments for her freelance work, which is very unlike her.
Your dad isn’t ready for your regular Tuesday night dinner when you go to pick him up.
Your mom looks disheveled and has been wearing the same clothes every time you’ve stopped by this week. She is normally dressed to the nines.
Your stepdad called you from the parking lot of the grocery store because he couldn’t remember how to get home. He was scared and upset.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s forgetfulness, language challenges, or problem-solving skills and it is affecting daily life, it’s time to get their physician involved. Make an appointment so that you can discuss your concerns. Before the appointment, talk to your loved one about it. Many times, seniors living in the early stages of dementia will notice their own forgetfulness and have been trying to hide it, or mask it, for months or years. Being able to talk about it with you can come as a relief.
Before your appointment, take time to jot down concrete examples of what you have observed in the past few months. These will be helpful to bring up during your time with the doctor and can help give them a bigger picture of what is happening at home.
Finally, if your loved one does receive a diagnosis of dementia, be sure to involve them in any future planning. Empower them to make decisions and make their wishes known so that they can be an active part of ensuring their own safety and wellness moving forward. Finding the right senior living community can be part of those planning talks, even if the move doesn’t happen for months or years down the road.
At iNavigate, we are lucky enough to work with family members and seniors who want to find a community that supports their current and future needs. We are here to help guide you along the way, and at no cost to you. Call us to set up a free consultation so we can get to know more about you and your situation.
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