Sometimes when visiting for the holidays, adult children notice changes that concern them regarding their parents’ hygiene, eating habits, reasoning, thinking, or memory that seem to be causing challenges. They may ask, is my parent showing signs of dementia?
Often, these can be just ‘normal’ aging issues and not indicators that the parent is showing signs of dementia.
As we age there are normal changes that occur in our brain. The following are some age-related changes: they may be more absentminded, take longer to think of the “right” word, have difficulty multitasking, and shorter attention spans. As we age, it is normal for us to take longer to come up with the “right” word, or forget what we went into a room to get but then remember later, or misplace where we put things but we can retrace our steps. Normal “forgetfulness” or “absentmindedness” doesn’t affect our ability to take care of ourselves and interfere with our ability to perform activities of daily living.
If a parent is showing signs of dementia, it is more than just memory loss and it’s more pronounced. Dementia causes several changes in a person’s ability to communicate, reason, process information, schedule, plan and remember appointments and events. You may notice that your parent repeating things over and over, isn’t able to manage their finances, maintain their household, or notice an accumulation of clutter, stacks of unopened mail and magazines, or poor hygiene. A decrease in personal hygiene is one of the most common signs of dementia. They may not be bathing, washing their clothes or hair, or brushing their teeth. They may be forgetting to take their medication. These are indictors of a bigger problem.
They may also accuse you of not telling them things that you’ve told them, or they’re getting lost or confused driving to and from a familiar place, or they might bring up something from the past and refer to it as though it occurred recently. You may notice that they are making poor decisions or that the refrigerator is empty or full of expired food.
You may notice that their reasoning is skewed – and not normal anymore. A parent showing signs of dementia may have irrational fears about safety or be afraid of potential harm. They may be staying at home all the time because they are afraid to go outside alone.
Dementia affects how we take care or ourselves, our lifestyle, the decisions and choices we make. It’s NOT just memory loss. It may not be obvious at first, but as dementia progresses it affects a person’s ability to take care of themselves independently.
If you notice these changes in a parent, the question becomes what to do about this? If you swoop in and start making changes, you’re likely to get a defensive and resentful reaction from your parent. A good approach is to be respectful and compassionate, ask open ended questions, try to form an alliance with your parent, offer ‘support,’ discuss your observations and concerns and together try to come up with possible solutions. If your parent feels they are a part of the solution process, it increases cooperation and doing what is in their best interest.
If they are resistant, contact their physician about your observations and concerns or talk with a trusted friend or relative.
If you need dementia caregiver support, please join my dementia support group or schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation.
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