Dementia Can Happen to Anyone

Understand the signs of dementia

So you’ve heard your spouse relate the same anecdote in social settings three or four times.  In fact, you’ve probably told it more than once yourself.  But at what point does repetition cross the line from enthusiasm to forgetfulness to dementia?


Recognizing the signs of dementia can often be harder in someone you are close to than in someone you see more infrequently, because the ingrained habits of daily life can mask the symptoms in distractions.  A different kind of vigilance comes into play when an older relative or a spouse begins to display this cognitive loss, and it’s important to separate out the normal from what may be an incipient deterioration in mental ability.


There is no one symptom that points to Alzheimer’s Disease, or the not uncommon Frontotemporal lobe Dementia (FTD).  But if you become aware of the emergence of several of these indicators, it would be worthwhile having your loved one checked out:


Odd behaviors:  An unpaid bill that’s fallen under the car seat is one thing.  But a packet of bills stuffed in the glove compartment is a sign that something is amiss.  People with dementia often exhibit irresponsible financial behavior – be it compulsive shopping or irregular household bookkeeping.


Haziness:  A certain amount of inattentiveness between spouses can be explained away.  But if you have to ask for something three times in the space of a few minutes, that speaks of more than deafness.   If the person too often seems lost in a dream world, miles away, she may be in the process of involuntarily checking out from reality.  And although we all lose words that we had on the tip our tongue, increasing aphasia – that is, the loss of language skills—points to dementia.


Impulsivity:  Some dementias are characterized by a lack of control, or reduced inhibitions.  If your loved one begins engaging in inappropriate activity, or suddenly has difficulty censoring his speech, you are correct in suspecting that something may be going on.


Falls:  Old age is fraught with physical problems that can cause unsteadiness, but frequent falling is also a known symptom of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia like Hopkinton's disease.  This symptom is serious and often leads to the need for a higher level of care such as assisted living, skilled nursing, or in-home care.  


Social Cues:  How we read and react to others is a basic glue that binds human society.  People experiencing the onset of dementia sometimes lose the ability to read clues that others may project about their feelings.  They may not recognize—or feel—embarrassment; they may not read when someone is lying—or understand that deception is even possible; sarcastic, or clever, or witty remarks may be beyond them; and the ability to empathize with another may also be compromised.


Profound forgetfulness:  Forgetting where you left your glasses is normal; forgetting what glasses are for, is not. 


Taken together, the above symptoms and behavioral characteristics paint a fairly complete picture of the kinds of things that may signal the onset of mental deterioration.  But remember, not everyone displays all of the above characteristics, or develops them simultaneously.  There is no sure indicator of dementia, but if you start seeing several of these signs piling up, and have difficulty “explaining them away,” it’s best to get a professional opinion.