When one thinks of all of the health problems facing seniors, conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis often come to mind. While there is no doubt that such problems are worthy of attention, it would be a mistake to focus only on the physical ailments that afflict senior citizens. Millions of elderly patients suffer under the chronic effects of dementia, a term used to describe multiple mental disorders that steadily erode a person’s memory and cognitive abilities.
Dementia does not strike completely without warning; patients often begin to exhibit noticeable symptoms of mental deterioration years before dementia has reached its advanced stages. If these warning signs are noticed early enough, a dementia patient can begin to receive crucial medical treatments at a much earlier date, potentially leading to a better quality of life and slower progression of symptoms. Below are some of the most common indicators of creeping dementia:
Increasing Loss of Memory – A weakening memory is common characteristic found in most seniors. It’s not at all uncommon for an older adult to misplace certain objects, or to struggle with remembering new names and faces. However, these symptoms might be indicative of dementia if they become more frequent and severe. For example, a person in the initial stages of a chronic mental illness might lose the same items repeatedly, fail to remember key events and appointments and have difficulty recalling commonly used words.
Dramatic Personality Shifts – According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, an organization specializing in the home care of dementia patients, some forms of dementia can cause abrupt and unexpected changes in personality. A formally vigorous, trusting and friendly person might suddenly become lethargic, suspicious of others and hostile to loved ones. Dementia patients are also vulnerable to strong mood swings, and might react to certain situations in a manner completely inconsistent with their normal personalities.
Repetition of Certain Questions, Comments and Stories – While talking with a senior citizen, you might notice that they seem to ask the same questions repeatedly, or tell certain stories over and over again. Dementia can significantly impair a sufferer’s short-term memory, causing them to forget things they have said over the course of a conversation.
Disorientation and Confusion – Another telltale sign of the presence of dementia is disorientation, especially involving places and people the patient should be well acquainted with. A person with undiagnosed dementia might get lost in a grocery store they have patronized hundreds of times, or forget how to drive themselves home. This confusion might expand to include everyday tasks, as the patient might begin forgetting to regularly brush their teeth and bathe.
Frequent Falls – It is widely known that seniors are vulnerable to falls, especially those living in multi-story houses and apartments. Though it might seem that such falls are due to the frail and aging bodies of seniors, the real culprit in some cases might actually be dementia. One study put this theory to the test, examining the brain scans of 125 seniors over an eight month span. The test subjects were also asked to document the number of times they suffered falls. The study found that the seniors who fell most often also tended to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, one of the most damaging forms of dementia.
Antisocial Behavior – Perhaps the most disturbing indicator of dementia is a sudden inclination to engage in all sorts of disconcerting behaviors, ranging from making crude remarks to committing acts of theft. It is not unheard of for dementia patients to develop an appetite for stealing items from store shelves, or to break into strangers’ homes. The onset of dementia can also warp a person’s judgment when interacting with others, causing them to repeatedly make offensive and vulgar statements during conversations.