Recognizing the Signs
Noticing early signs of cognitive decline can be emotional—for both you and your loved one. Subtle changes in a loved one’s health, memory, and behavior that once seemed like a normal part of the aging process can start to become more noticeable—and more worrisome. You’re unsure what to do, what to say, or how to approach the situation. And they feel confused and anxious. But before you and your family can offer the care and support they need, the first step is to recognize and understand the early warning signs of dementia.
“Changes can be subtle for some – especially in the early stages. Signs can vary and so can their level of intensity,” says Beverly Sanborn, MSW, LCSW, gerontologist and vice president of program development for Belmont Village Senior Living. “If the warning signs are consistent and on-going, it’s an indication that the senior’s safety may be in danger. An assessment to understand the causes of memory loss is in order at this point—both for your loved one’s safety and your own peace of mind.”
10 Common Indicators of Cognitive Decline
1. Short-term memory loss
Your loved one may struggle with remembering recent information, such as what they ate for lunch that day, where they left something, or what they were about to say. They may become repetitive—saying the same things or asking the same questions over and over.
2. Social withdrawal
Social isolation during a global pandemic is difficult for everyone. For an aging body and brain, it can worsen cognitive decline and risk of dementia. Older adults who feel isolated or lonely may start to have trouble keeping up with conversations. They may stop talking mid-conversation or struggle to find the right words. As a result, they often withdraw from social activities and lose touch with friends or family.
3. Changes in personality or behavior
A person in the early stages of dementia may experience mental health decline, including mood swings and abrupt personality changes. They may show poor judgment or act out of character, often becoming paranoid, confused, fearful, depressed, rude, or easily upset.
You may notice your loved one sleeping or crying a lot more than usual. They may feel lonely, sad, depressed, and hopeless. And, in their daily life, they aren’t participating in activities they used to love.
5. Extreme Forgetfulness
Misplacing things from time to time or forgetting a random name or date is considered normal forgetfulness. However, finding keys in the freezer, having trouble re-tracing steps, or forgetting to turn off the stove can be signs of something more serious.
Take Belmont Village’s complimentary “Is this dementia?” questionnaire for a quick assessment of changes you’re noticing.
6. Changes in personal care and hygiene
Even without business closures and anxiety about COVID-19, a loved one with dementia may exhibit noticeable weight loss from irregular dietary patterns and eating habits. You may also notice them struggling with care in their daily life, which might include bathing less frequently or wearing the same clothes repeatedly without washing.
People with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can get confused about time and place. They lose track of the day, year, or season. They may get lost easily. Sometimes they forget where they are or how they got there, which could unintentionally expose them to COVID-19.
8. Incorrectly taking medications
People with dementia may neglect their health care. For example, they may forget to take their medication, causing them to skip prescribed doses. Or they may forget that they’ve already taken their medicine and end up taking multiple doses, risking an overdose.
9. Decreased ability to perform simple, familiar tasks
A loved one may start having trouble with daily tasks, such as driving, keeping track of their spending, organizing a grocery list, etc. Or they may lack follow-through—starting tasks and never finishing them.
10. Poor home maintenance
You may start to see signs of memory impairment around the house—piles of dirty dishes, forgotten laundry, and unsorted mail. In extreme cases, clutter can accumulate to the point that it becomes a health and safety issue.
Early Intervention Helps
Sometimes it can be hard to differentiate between normal aging, stress, and cognitive decline – especially in the early stages. Despite the impact of COVID-19, it’s important to take a proactive approach to memory impairment. Early diagnosis and treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), such as Belmont Village Senior Living’s Circle of Friends® program, has been proven to slow the progression of dementia. A Whole-Brain-Fitness approach—mental stimulation, socialization, and healthy lifestyle—builds cognitive reserve in the brain, allowing seniors to maintain function and higher quality of life.
“Spending a few days with an aging parent or loved one is a good way to see how they’re doing and where they might need a little more support,” says Sanborn. “We often hear from family members that they’ve seen signs of concern that aren’t readily apparent in routine phone calls or quick visits.”
According to Sanborn, Alzheimer’s disease remains the most common type – making up 60-80% of all dementia cases. However, there are more than 80 types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy Body, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia that manifest in different ways. It’s normal to want to dismiss the early signs, but if memory lapses are consistent enough to cause concern it’s best to get help. There may be an underlying cause that’s correctable.
Is This Dementia?
If you’re seeing any of these signs, our “Is this dementia?” assessment can help you gauge the seriousness of your concerns and determine your next steps, such as setting up a professional assessment, exploring treatment options, speaking with a doctor, or reaching out to a Belmont Village senior living care advisor.
If you are seeing warning signs of memory impairment and have concerns or questions about your loved one and the changes they are experiencing, we’re always here to help.
It really helped when you described the importance of detecting cognitive decline away from normal aging. Not long ago, my mom told me that she’s been worried about my grandmother’s health and how she forgets things that happened just a few moments ago, so we think it’s time to find a professional’s help. We’re grateful for your tips on how to detect cognitive decline in your loved one.