What Is Dementia?
How to Identify the Indicators of Dementia—and What to Do Next
When you hear the term dementia, what do you think of first? You may associate the term with the elderly. There is often a misconception about our aging seniors that significant memory impairment is just a part of getting older, but this is not the case. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (ALS), dementia is a general term for the “loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life.”
Think of dementia as an umbrella. The term encompasses various disorders that are caused by abnormal brain changes. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s. Approximately 60 to 80 percent of people with dementia are suffering from Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association states that one in nine people age 65 and older (11.3 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
While suffering from dementia is not a normal part of aging, the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia is growing quickly. It is projected that 12.7 million people ages 65 and older will have Alzheimer’s dementia by 2050. For this reason, it is very important to understand the signs of dementia, how it may be confused with other medical conditions, and what steps to take when you feel the signs of dementia are present in a loved one.
What are some common signs of dementia?
The dementia warning signs vary widely, but may include problems with short-term memory like the following:
- Trouble keeping track of car keys, wallet, or other important items
- Trouble planning and preparing meals
- Forgetting medical appointments or other engagements
What conditions often lead to dementia?
As noted, dementia is most often caused by Alzheimer’s. Other conditions that can cause dementia, according to Stanford Health Care, include:
- Vascular dementia (strokes, long-term high blood pressure, hardening of arteries)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Lewy body dementia (a disease associated with abnormal protein deposits in the brain)
- Frontotemporal dementia
- Severe head injury
What conditions can be mistaken for early signs of dementia?
The challenge with distinguishing the signs of dementia is that there are many other conditions that can produce the same symptoms of confusion, changes in behavior, memory difficulties, or poor spatial awareness. The Social Care Institute for Excellence in London describes some conditions that may be mistaken for dementia, including the following:
- Depression: Someone who is depressed may have difficulty concentrating on a task—even something like following a TV show or staying engaged in a conversation—as well as a lack of appetite, which could explain why an individual may not be eating enough or concerned with meal preparation.
- Poor Vision: If an individual is bruised from tripping or falling in their home, they may not necessarily have dementia. They may be unable to see clearly and have poor spatial awareness. Rule out a vision problem or a need for an updated glasses prescription first.
- Hearing Problem: A senior who is struggling to hear may appear withdrawn simply because he cannot follow the conversation. A hearing problem can also cause a senior to become confused. Rule out the need for a new or updated hearing aid and see if the individual’s ability to communicate and participate in conversation improves.
- Lack of Food or Dehydration: Confusion is one of the signs of dementia, but there are many reasons that a senior may appear to be confused. Are they dehydrated? Have they eaten enough food? Could they have an underlying infection? It is also possible that a senior could appear confused due to side effects of medication or mixing alcohol with medication. This can cause communication or memory difficulties as well as sudden changes in the senior’s behavior.
- Bereavement: An individual who is grieving or experiencing emotional distress may exhibit symptoms that could be confused with dementia such as exhaustion, sleep deprivation, headaches, or a loss of appetite.
What should you do if you suspect dementia?
As soon as you begin noticing changes or difficulties in a loved one’s memory, bring them to their doctor for evaluation. The best possible approach to take with dementia is to intervene as early as possible. When you are proactive, you can better determine the cause, explore any available treatments, and better make plans for a loved one’s future care needs.
If you have any additional questions or need support for a loved one with memory difficulties, please feel free to reach out to our team.