Concerned About Your Loved One’s Cognitive Health? Take Advantage of Family Get-Togethers

December 18, 2023

The holiday season often brings opportunities for families to spend quality time together. For those who are geographically scattered, the winter holiday season may be one of the few times they can gather.

If you’ll be visiting with older relatives during the holidays, you may want to pay attention to any noticeable and significant changes in their behavior, overall mood or cognitive abilities. Some of these changes are among the early signs of dementia.

If you do notice any of the changes described in this article, keep in mind that other factors — such as prescription medications or other health conditions — could be the cause. Either way, it’s important to have a medical professional evaluate your loved one.

The earlier an underlying cause is identified; the sooner steps can be taken to address it. If it’s Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, initiating treatment right away may help slow progression of the disease and prolong your loved one’s quality of life.

What Are the Early Signs of Dementia?

Some of the signs are so subtle and gradual, they may not be noticeable to others who are around your loved one on a regular basis. Your loved one may not be aware of changes, either. But if it has been a while since you last saw your older relative, the changes may be more noticeable to you. These are some of the signs to look for:

  • Frequently misplacing or losing things, or putting items where they don’t belong. Everybody loses things on occasion, but if your loved one seems to be having more trouble than usual keeping up with keys, eyeglasses or other commonly used items, it could be a sign of increasing cognitive decline.Another telltale sign is if your loved one isn’t able to mentally retrace their steps to see if they can remember where they might have left the lost item. Another is putting things away in inappropriate places, such as putting the roll of aluminum foil in the refrigerator instead of a kitchen cabinet or drawer.
  • Being withdrawn and not wanting to participate in favorite activities.
    Older adults may become withdrawn for several reasons, including hearing or vision loss, depression, incontinence, anxiety and fear of falling. If they are experiencing memory or communication problems, these, too, can cause them to forgo social activities and spend more time alone.If you see that your loved one has become more isolated or less interested in activities they used to enjoy, don’t ignore it. The more they withdraw, the more their risk of dementia and other behavioral health conditions is likely to increase. In many cases, treatment can ease whatever is causing them to withdraw. If they are experiencing the early stages of dementia, encouraging them to participate in social activities can be beneficial.
  • Memory problems that interfere with daily life.
    Like misplacing things, having a temporary memory lapse happens to nearly all of us. However, if your loved one seems to be relying more on memory aids (such as notes and reminders) to do routine activities, is consistently forgetting appointments, or has difficulty remembering important dates or events, these could be early dementia signs.
  • Getting confused, lost or upset easily.
    As we age, It’s not unusual to forget why we went into another room or lose our train of thought while carrying on a conversation. Most of the time, though, we eventually remember. Older adults who are in the early stages of dementia may experience these lapses on a regular basis, and they typically do not recall what they intended to do or say.Has your loved one gotten lost while driving or walking a familiar route? Forgotten where they are or how they wound up there? Been confused about how much time has passed or what time, day or year it is? These can all be early signs of dementia.Becoming upset in a seemingly innocuous situation can be another sign, particularly if it happens regularly. Significant changes in mood or personality, including a shift toward suspiciousness, fearfulness or anger, are other signs.
  • Having trouble thinking of the “right” words while talking.
    While talking with your older family member, do you notice that they stop mid-sentence to think of a common word but can’t bring it to mind? Do they then substitute a description in place of the word or use an inappropriate word instead? An example would be saying they went to the “tooth doctor” instead of the “dentist.”
  • Not remembering new information or asking the same question repeatedly.
    Short-term memory loss is one of the common symptoms of dementia. Does your loved one have problems remembering information they’ve recently learned or answers you previously provided to their questions?
  • Difficulty completing routine tasks or using familiar items.
    Older adults who struggle with balancing their checkbook, maintaining their usual standard of hygiene or preparing a recipe they’ve often made in the past may be exhibiting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. They may also have problems operating simple appliances or devices, or even find it challenging to distinguish between the hot and cold water taps.
  • Changes in vision.
    Although it is quite common for older adults to experience changes in their vision, some changes can suggest the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. These include changes that can affect an older adult’s ability to judge distances, colors and contrast, as well as their balance and their ability to read.Cataracts may be the cause of some of these problems, and they can usually be easily addressed with routine surgery. A visit with an ophthalmologist is a good first step.

Does Dementia Affect Men and Women Differently?

Nearly two-thirds of adults ages 65 and older who are living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “women in their 60s are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over their lifetime as they are to develop breast cancer.”

The greater prevalence in women can be explained, in part, because increasing age is the greatest risk for developing Alzheimer’s and women, on average, live longer than men.

But that doesn’t appear to explain the entire difference.

  • Some studies have shown there’s no difference in the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease between men and women of the same age.
  • Other studies suggest geography (i.e., country or global region) plays a role in whether there’s a greater prevalence among women than men of the same age.
  • Still, other studies demonstrate a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among women than men of the same age, but no difference in the prevalence of other types of dementia.

Until fairly recently, little research has focused on how, why or if dementia develops differently in women than in men. Additional research may help explain whether biological differences between men and women (such as genetics or hormones), traditional differences in gender roles or life experiences factor into the risk for or development of dementia.

Verbal Memory Differences

Research has shown women tend to perform better than men on the verbal memory tests commonly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease — even when imaging tests detect the same amount of amyloid plaques in the brain. (The presence of these plaques is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.)

Although this may seem like a positive finding, it suggests the disease may be in a later stage when diagnosed in some women. This, in turn, means less opportunity to slow progression of the disease through treatment.

Should You Look for Different Signs?

Based on what is currently known, it doesn’t appear as though the early signs of dementia in women are much different from those in men.

A possible exception is that men who show symptoms of depression are at greater risk of developing dementia as compared with women who have symptoms of depression.

In the later stages of disease, signs of dementia in men that are more common than in women include aggressive behaviors, such as becoming agitated or shouting at caregivers, as well as a tendency to wander.

Personalized Memory Care at The Variel

Our community offers two levels of care for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

The Mezzanine program is for those in the early or middle stages of memory loss and is a good option for a couple when one is in need of a little more support due to cognitive decline. Our customized Tessera program is for those with more advanced Alzheimer’s disease or memory disorders.

Residents in either of these progressive programs receive highly personalized, dignified care in an appealing, uplifting environment. Our staff encourages them to engage in a variety of activities designed to enrich their quality of life, and we’re dedicated to supporting family members as well.

We invite you to learn more about memory care and assisted living at The Variel. A one-on-one experience is the best way to see how your loved one could benefit from our array of services and amenities. You’ll also witness firsthand how residents here thrive.

Contact us so we can schedule a visit for you!

Featured Image: Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock