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Dementia is a general word to describe cognitive disorders that impact the brain’s capacity for thinking, remembering, and reasoning over time that has started to impact daily life. Alzheimer’s is a specific disease and form of dementia – there are also many other forms of dementia. To put it differently, every case of Alzheimer’s results in dementia, but not every patient with dementia has Alzheimer’s. Here’s an article explaining the difference.

Memory loss that has become disruptive to daily life is an understandably worrying and frustrating thing to witness in a loved one. If you’re starting to wonder what the early warning signs for any type of dementia are, then this article is for you.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Dementia

  1. Disruptive memory loss. Forgetfulness is a common sign of aging, so it is not alone a sign of dementia. Instead, it needs to be frequent and severe enough to disrupt daily life.

    For example, forgetting the name of someone you just met and needing reminders for appointments is a normal sign of forgetfulness. On the other hand, frequently forgetting new information (even after being reminded), needing notes to remember familiar daily tasks, or asking the same question multiple times may be considered abnormally disruptive.
  2. Confusion with time and place. If you can’t remember what day of the week it is but can be reminded and remember later, that’s a normal sign of forgetfulness.

    A more disruptive level of confusion worth review is something like forgetting where you are after arriving (or not remembering how you got there). Or if you don’t seem to notice or understand the changing seasons, time of year, or general passage of time.
  3. Difficulty completing tasks that are familiar. Occasionally needing help with changing the TV input or logging into your email are normal behaviors.

    Things like forgetting how to get to the grocery store or another frequently visited location is a sign of a bigger/more disruptive version of memory loss.
  4. Vision changes. Cataracts and slowly worsening vision are common and often age-related.

    But a change in spatial awareness (depth perception), difficulty maintaining balance, or changes in the ability to perceive color is a more disruptive vision change and may indicative of a deeper problem.
  5. Changes in mood, personality, or behavior. As we age, it’s easy and normal to become more attached to routines and less interested in big family gatherings.

    When it becomes disruptive is when your personality becomes withdrawn, anxious, confused, suspicious, depressed, or if you are unable to hold a conversation.

    Misplacing an item and retracing steps to find it, as another example, is normal.

    Forgetting your steps and accusing family members of theft is a more disruptive behavior and mood change.

When to Seek Help

If you’ve noticed any of these signs or symptoms in yourself or a loved one, don’t wait to act. Early detection can increase the quality of life and ease symptoms. It can be intimidating to reach out to a medical professional, especially if there is a fear of diagnosis. But understanding what you’re up against will help you find the best answers and help your loved one maintain independence longer.

The California Caregiver Resource Centers were created with caregivers both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, which can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer your questions, and explain how they can best support you.

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