Recognizing the Signs of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are common topics in the assisted living community. Millions of seniors receive a dementia diagnosis every year – and hundreds of thousands of non-seniors. It can be difficult to recognize the signs of dementia, though, since many of them closely resemble the common signs of age.

If your loved one struggles to find the wrong word, it could be a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. The same is true for misplacing their keys or the TV remote. But these are also things nearly everyone does once in a while. How do you know when it’s time to worry or talk to the doctor? This post looks at the common signs of dementia as well as how to prepare for the doctor visit.

What Is Dementia?

First, we need to define dementia. It isn’t a disease as most people think. It’s more a category of diseases in which patients experience a significant decline in cognitive function that impacts their daily lives.

Although dementia risk increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging. In addition, it isn’t even a common issue for seniors. Worldwide, only around 6 percent of people over age 60 have Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia). Unfortunately, that percentage is more than double in America, with a little over 13 percent of seniors living with Alzheimer’s.

What Is the Most Common Type of Dementia?

Without question, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for around 70 percent of all cases. Vascular dementia comes in at a distant second, accounting for around 10 percent of cases. Typically, this type of dementia occurs after a stroke.

The other more common types of dementia include:

What Causes Dementia?

Scientists do not yet understand what causes dementia. They recognize that dementia patients have brain cell damage, but not why those cells become damaged in the first place.

Our brains have discrete areas that control every function of the body. When an area becomes damaged, the patient experiences issues in the corresponding function. For example, when the hippocampus becomes damaged, it affects memory, because that part of the brain controls memory (among other things). The hippocampus is often the first part of the brain to show cell damage in Alzheimer’s patients. This isn’t surprising, since memory loss is often the earliest sign of the disease.

What Are the Signs of Dementia?

Since so many dementia symptoms mimic the common signs of aging, doctors don’t diagnose a patient unless they show significant decline in at least two of the following functions:

  • Husband talking to wife with dementia, East Shea Assisted Living, Scottsdale, AZCommunication (including writing and speaking abilities)
  • Memory (particularly short-term memory)
  • Mental acuity (including the ability to focus and pay attention)
  • Rational thought (including the ability to make decisions or show good judgment)
  • Visual perception (including the ability to read, judge distance, and recognize color)

If your loved one shows impairment in two or more of these functions, schedule a doctor appointment as soon as possible.

How to Prepare for Your Doctor Appointment

The first step should be an appointment with your loved one’s primary physician. He or she is the best source to understand what is “normal” for their patient. That means they’re more likely to see any changes that indicate a potential issue.

Your primary physician will want a complete medical history and will have plenty of questions. Before your visit, create a log or journal that details the following:

  • Medical issues, including family history and when the issues began
  • Symptoms, including when they began and how often they occur
  • Medications, including over-the-counter and prescriptions, when they began taking the medication, and the dosage

Diagnosing dementia is challenging, since so many of the conditions share symptoms. If the primary physician suspects dementia, they will likely refer the patient to a neurologist.

Is There Treatment for Dementia?

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or similar types of dementia. However, there are treatments for the symptoms. In addition, doctors recommend heart-healthy lifestyle habits, since these are also good for brain health.

  • A plant-based diet rich in fruits and vegetables, with lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats ensures your body gets the nutrients it needs for optimum health
  • Regular exercise improves circulation and blood flow, which is how your body distributes those nutrients
  • If you have high blood pressure or blood sugar, with your doctor to control them

If you would like to get involved with Alzheimer’s research, you can use the Alzheimer’s Association’s TrialMatch tool. Scientists need people from all ages, genders, and races to learn more about the dementia. TrialMatch lets you see if there are any studies for which you’d qualify. If you choose to participate, you could help doctors discover a cure.

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