Showing posts with label early diagnosis of dementia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label early diagnosis of dementia. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Early Signs of Dementia - You are Probably Worrying Unnecessarily!

As we age, most of us are concerned about the possibility of developing dementia.  Every time we misplace our keys or forget a name, we worry that we may be on our way to completely losing our mind.  However, the good news is that dementia is probably not in your future. Even for those who live to be in their 90s, fewer than half will develop anything more serious than mild cognitive decline. The reason we worry, of course, is because the majority of us do not actually know how to recognize the early symptoms of dementia.  According to an article in Medical News Today, on Feb. 21, 2019, there are ten symptoms which are indicative of the type of declining cognitive functioning which could lead to a serious case of dementia.  Having two or more of these symptoms means it is time to see a doctor.

Types of Dementia

First, it is important to understand that the term dementia is an umbrella term for a number of different types of cognitive decline.  Here are the most common types of dementia:

Alzheimer's Disease
Lewy body dementia
frontotemporal dementia
vascular disorders leading to dementia
mixed dementia ... a combination of two or more of the other types

Signs of Dementia

Regardless of the type of dementia which you could be developing, you should be concerned if you or a family member develop two or more of the symptoms listed below.  In addition, the symptoms need to be severe enough that they interfere with daily life.  In other words, occasionally losing your keys, getting confused, or forgetting a name is not necessarily enough of a problem that it would indicate anything more serious than simple age-related mild cognitive decline or, in some cases, it could simply mean you are tired.  The symptoms below are only a concern when they are severe and interfere with your life, work, and relationships.  In addition, remember that you need to be experiencing two or more of these symptoms, before you need to worry that you could be developing dementia.

1.  Extreme Memory Loss - Memory loss is especially significant if you cannot remember information which you have recently learned, or events which happened during the preceding few days or weeks.  For example, when my mother's dementia began to be severe, she once told me she had not seen my sister in months, despite the fact that my sister was actually staying with my mother at the time and had only gone into another room.

2.  Difficulty solving problems and making plans - This symptom becomes obvious when a person can no longer follow driving directions or remember how to prepare a familiar recipe.  They may also have difficulty paying their bills.  My mother turned the bills over to my father a couple of years before she showed more serious symptoms of her dementia, despite the fact she had paid their bills for decades before her decline.

3.  Difficulty completing familiar tasks - This is similar to the symptom above, although it becomes an issue when a person has difficulty with even simple, familiar tasks which do not require much planning, such as making a cup of tea or going to a familiar location.  In the retirement community where I live, people occasionally become disoriented and get lost on the golf course, or on their way to a nearby bank or restaurant. 

4. Confusion about the time and place - People with dementia often struggle with dates.  While we may all occasionally think a past event happened "just last year," when it actually happened a decade ago, this is more pronounced in a person with dementia.  They may also become confused about where they are.   They may no longer remember their address or phone number.  They may repeatedly ask what time it is.  They may insist it is spring, when it is really fall or winter. 

5.  Challenges with interpreting visual information - If a person suddenly has difficulty reading the paper, judging distances, or recognizing differences in colors, this could also be an early symptom of dementia.

6.  Problems writing or speaking - Communication is very important to anyone with normal cognitive ability.  Someone with dementia may find it difficult to hold a conversation or write a note.  They may forget what they are trying to say, or their handwriting and grammar may worsen.  They may want to avoid situations where they are expected to socialize, especially with new people.

7.  Misplacing items - We all misplace common items from time-to-time, and doing so is not necessarily a symptom of dementia. However, when it happens too frequently, or the person begins to believe that their possessions are being stolen, then it can be a sign of dementia.  When my mother lost weight late in life, some of her shoes became loose.  She believed someone was sneaking into the house late at night to steal her shoes and was replacing them with pairs which were too large for her.  As ridiculous as this sounds to other people, my mother was so convinced that she was being robbed that she slept on the floor in front of her closet door for several nights until she finally forgot about the "thefts."   Until she forgot about the issue herself, no one in the family could convince her that she was mistaken.

8.  Poor judgement or decision-making - With all the other symptoms mentioned above, it is easy to understand why someone with dementia may make poor decisions.  For example, they can become easy prey to scammers and be talked into purchasing items they do not need, or they may pay too much for things.  They could also stop taking care of themselves and their personal hygiene may decline.  This is one reason why I personally get upset when residents of our over-55 community are targeted by phone scammers.  While I never fall for them, I know there are many seniors in our neighborhood who could easily get into a prolonged conversation with the caller and do whatever they ask.  These predators victimize some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

9.  Social withdrawal - Many people begin to isolate as they age. This can also be a sign of dementia.  One of the reasons for this isolation may be because they are having difficulty with conversations and other forms of communication.  They may be less aware of the people around them and not understand everything which is being said. Other reasons they may withdraw could be hearing loss or poor vision.  Fear of getting lost or being vulnerable to criminals may also cause them to stay home and become isolated.

10.  Changes in personality or mood -  If someone who has traditionally been mild-mannered begins to develop mood swings or changes in personality, this can be an early symptom of dementia, although it can indicate other health issues as well, such as severe pain or a reaction to medications such as steroids.  Whatever the cause, unusual bursts of temper or mood swings need to be investigated by their physician.

The Good News about Dementia

Even if you or someone in your family exhibits a few of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean they are going to develop severe dementia. Not all cases of mild cognitive decline progress to severe dementia.  The first thing you should do is talk to a doctor.  There could be a reversible cause for the above symptoms.  For example, as mentioned above, some medications can cause many of the above symptoms.  When the medication is removed, full cognitive function may be restored.

In addition to medication problems, symptoms of dementia can be caused by hearing loss, vision problems, depression, pain, or other treatable problems.  A doctor can determine whether or not there are underlying problems and help you find a solution.  Even if there is not a physical cause for the dementia symptoms, it is possible that a physician can prescribe a medication to slow down the progression of the disease.  Regardless of the cause of the dementia symptoms, your first step should be to make an appointment with your doctor.  No one should assume there is nothing which can be done and leave the symptoms untreated.

If you are a caregiver, you may also be interested in reading a book such as "The Dementia Handbook."  (Ad) It will provide you with even more detailed information about the stages of dementia and how to care for someone with symptoms of the disease. It is important for caregivers to get all the information and help possible.

If you are interested in learning more about common medical issues as you age, Social Security, Medicare, financial planning, where to retire, travel and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional useful articles.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Early Diagnosis of Dementia is Possible

Many people mistakenly believe that every time they misplace their car keys or forget an appointment, it is an early sign of dementia ... including Alzheimer's Disease.  The truth is that everyone sometimes forgets something.  However, that does not mean that early diagnosis of dementia is not possible.  Researchers have discovered that changes in behavior or personality could be a better way to predict dementia than occasional forgetfulness.

Mild Behavioral Impairment Could Indicate Brain Changes

Dr. Zahinoor Ismail of the University of Calgary and his team of researchers have compiled a checklist of symptoms which could be a red flag for doctors and families who are watching for signs of mental decline.  In putting together the checklist, they discovered that the brain changes that eventually lead to dementia can affect other parts of the brain years earlier.  In fact, people can develop signs of behavior impairment as much as a decade or two before they begin to show memory loss.

Symptoms of Behavioral Changes

Among the behavior changes which could be symptoms of future dementia are:

Has the patient lost interest in their favorite activities?
Are they getting unusually anxious, aggressive or suspicious?
Are they making crude or inappropriate comments in public?
Have they developed signs of depression?
Are they experiencing "sundowning" ... agitation or memory problems which are worse late in the day?
Have they become apathetic?
Do they get anxious about activities which have always been routine?
Are they losing their impulse control?
Have they started flaunting social norms?
Are they losing their appetite or showing less interest in food?

Dr Ismail emphasizes that these changes should be new problems that last more than six months.  In addition, they should not be problems that can be explained in other ways, such as by a clear mental health diagnosis or the recent death of a loved one. These need to be new behaviors.

Early Treatment Can Delay Alzheimer's Disease and Other Types of Dementia

If you notice that you or someone you love has developed recent personality or behavioral changes, it could be worth it to discuss the problem with your family doctor.  There are treatments which have been successful in slowing the progression of dementia.  It is also possible that early treatment could be even more successful if it is started as soon as mild behavioral impairment is noticed.

Medications are available to help people control their depression, anxiety and irritability, which could make life easier for both the patients and their family members.

Other Ways to Slow Down Dementia

Many researchers believe working crossword puzzles and playing a variety of brain games could slow down the development of dementia.  While these games may help, it is possible that social activities could be even more important.  Researchers from the University of Wisconsin reported their findings that "complex jobs that require working with people may help the brain build resilience against dementia, what's called 'cognitive reserve.'" 

In addition to being engaged in complex activities with other people, researchers from the University of South Florida discovered that reaction-time training could significantly decrease your risk of being diagnosed with dementia.  In the study, led by Dr. Jerri Edwards, 14 percent of people in a control group that received no intervention were diagnosed with dementia a decade later.  Those who had received just ten hours of reaction-time training over a five-week period lowered their risk of a dementia diagnosis to 12 percent; those who continued to get extra booster training lowered their rate of diagnosis to 8 percent.  The booster training consisted of four extra sessions one year after the original training and four more two years later.  The scientists measured the cognitive and functional changes at the beginning of the study, as well as at the one, two, three, five and ten year marks.  They found the group that did the speed training had 33 percent less risk of dementia when compared to the control group.  Even better, those that did at least 11 speed-training sessions were at 48 percent less risk for developing dementia over the ten years of the study.  The speed training consisted of a computer program in which the participants were asked to identify objects on a screen quickly.  The program got harder with each correct answer.

Other researchers have discovered that getting exercise, learning new skills, being involved in a religious organization, eating the Mediterranean diet, and socializing are all good ways to reduce dementia risk.

If you are interested in learning more about lowering your risk of dementia or developing other health problems, finding good places to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.


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