Dementia: 10 signs to watch for in your aging parents Part 1

When my family and my mother first embarked on the journey of eldercare needs, I will be honest and admit that I was happily going  about my business, raising two little girls, teaching full time, taking care of my own home, and doing all those things 30 something’s are doing.  We lived two hours from my childhood home and would visit once or twice a month.  I spoke to my mother every day to check in and just hear her voice on the phone, but she worked in an office before I was born and was an expert at getting off the phone in a timely manner.  I was not so oblivious that I didn’t notice she was having a hard time getting things done around the house, but I wasn’t prepared for the extent of her problems until we moved in with her to help her take care of the house, by that time I was in the deep end of the pool with what felt like cement tied to my ankle and no life-vest in sight.  As a child of an aging adult be pro-active and look for the following as red-flags that there may be a problem.

*Please keep in mind that nothing on this site is a diagnosis.  Only a licensed medical practitioner can make a diagnosis of dementia.  If you are concerned about your aging parent talk with them about getting a physical.

10. Lack of Hygiene or Cleanliness:

One of the first signs that there is something going on is a change in their daily routine.  Have you noticed that your mom or dad isn’t as “put together” as usual?  Are they bathing? Brushing their teeth?  Are they wearing clean clothes?  If you notice that your parent isn’t clean or they are not taking care of themselves the way they used to it is a signal that something may be going on.  I first noted these changes when we would go visit for the weekend and my mother would not change her clothes for the whole weekend.  At first I thought she either wasn’t bothering because she was being lazy, then I thought she was trying to save on the cost of doing laundry.

9. Are the bills being paid?

This was one of the harder things for me to figure out, because my mother didn’t believe in talking about financials with her child, but the day we came home in February to an empty gas tank, it was obvious.  Check for piles of unopened mail.  As dementia sets in things like sorting mail may become too overwhelming.   Are the lights working? Has the cable been shut off? If they have always had the local newspaper delivered is it absent from the coffee table?

8. Is Memory Loss more than misplaced glasses?

Let’s face it, there are days when I would forget my head if it wasn’t attached.  Slight memory issues are par for the course as we age, but when an elderly parent is suffering with dementia this becomes more than slight.  If your parent is having a difficult time pulling up the word they are looking for, or are not remembering directions or events you need to be concerned.  Also, if you notice when visiting that there is a large amount of lists, notes, or post it’s around the house this can be a more subtle indication that they are trying to compensate for memory loss.

7. Are Mood Changes Apparent?

As you and your parents age we change, but if you are noticing major changes in mood you should be concerned.  Obviously with age comes frustration from not being able to do those things we used to it’s to be expected.  Mood changes from dementia are more drastic and may feel like their personality has changed not just their moods.  You may find they are more easily frustrated which may lead to anger.  A parent, who has always been kindhearted, may all of a sudden say hurtful, mean things to you or about other people. This can even come in the form of physical acting out.

6. Are Conversations limited to a Short List?

This could go with the memory issues, but if you live away from your parent, as I did and phone contact is your primary connection this may be a signal that you should visit or call a relative who is close by.  If your parent always steers the conversation to a few “safe” topics and you feel that you are always just going over the same stuff they may be compensating and guiding the conversations to topics they feel comfortable talking about.  These things may be events that happened years and years ago, so they are very solid memories making your mom and dad comfortable with the facts.

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  1. I agree, it is a slow process. And its sometimes hard to recognize. I have read somewhere, can’t remember where,that diet can help some. But, of course you have to recognize the signs first, None of us want to see our elderly parents losing their ability to continue to be our parents. Its an emotional time for everyone. And it happens just like you said. We are busy with our lives, and often don’t live near by. Well written Mary Ann. I think this Blog is something that is going to prove to be an important, informational blog.

    • Thanks Debi, I hope it will help people. I know when I was first dealing with it I had a hard time finding information out there.

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