How Do I Know If My Mom or Dad Has Dementia?
Is It Dementia?
Have you noticed your parent or spouse forgetting things? Perhaps they've gotten lost on the way home from the store, or maybe they've asked the same question several times. What is the difference between normal forgetfulness and dementia? This article explains how to tell.
Short Memory Quiz
Below is a short quiz to help you determine whether the person you are concerned about is showing signs of early dementia. More quizzes for testing dementia can be found in Testing for Alzheimers and Symptoms of Advanced Alzheimers.
Fill out the quiz for the person you are worried about. Respond to each question with a "yes" or "no."
Memory Problems or Normal Aging? Take this quiz to see.view quiz statistics
Normal Aging vs. Signs of Dementia
Sign of Early Dementia
Daily life activities like driving, using telephone, bill paying and shopping
No problems getting these tasks done as before.
gets confused or can't complete task without reminders or help
Personal care life dressing, grooming, bathing
No problems with continuing these tasks
May start dressing inappropriately or forget to do normal tasks
Sometimes forgets a word or name
Frequently can't remember a word, makes word substitues or misuses words
Complains of memory loss
Frequently complains or notices when they forget a word or name
Doesn't complain about memory loss or notice if they forget
Same as always
May start behaving differently towards other people, get depressed, or drop activites they did before
Memory for recent events
Remembers events and details
Can't remember details of events, or even event itself
Orientation in space and time
Doesn't get lost. Able to remember days, dates and times.
Impaired. Starts forgetting familiar routes. May have trouble knowing days, dates and time.
Learning New Things
Slower, but can learn new tasks or information
May be able to learn but can't retain information. Can't learn how to use a new appliance or T.V. remote.
performs well in all areas
one or more areas show impairment
Why Knowing Signs is Important
For over two years, my husband and I struggled with the increasingly difficult behavior of his parents Only after a traumatic emotional breakdown and the hospitalization of his mother did we finally learn that they both were suffering from dementia caused by Alzheimer's. We wished we had gotten help earlier.
Unfortunately, our story is not uncommon. Most people with dementia are not diagnosed until there is some sort of accident or hospitalization. By recognizing the early signs of dementia, you can often get better treatment.
- About 30% of dementia is not Alzheimer's and may even be something that can be prevented and cured.
- Alzheimer's dementia can't be cured, but early detection allows for treatment to perhaps delay the disease and to plan for the future.
Dementia vs. Alzheimer's
What is the relationship between Dementia and Alzheimer's? Dementia is the symptom of memory loss, and Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia.
Between 60-70% of people diagnosed with dementia after age 65 are ultimately diagnosed as having Alzheimer's. Even though Alzheimer's is not reversible, there are treatments and lifestyle changes which can delay the disease. Recent developments in understanding and treating Alzheimer's suggest that if a person can be diagnosed in the stage of Mild Cognitive Impairment which precedes Alzheimer's and other dementias they can be treated to delay the disease.
Repairable Causes of Dementia
It is important to realize that Alzheimer's is not the only cause of dementia and some causes of memory impairment are reversible. Especially if the memory loss seems sudden, there is a good chance that something else should be suspected. Here are some of the other causes of dementia:
- Dementia with Lewy Bodies: second most common kind of dementia and tends to progress quickly. People with this dementia tend to have problems moving and vivid hallucinations.
- Vascular dementia: small strokes can cause dementia. This type does not necessarily progress and can even improve if treated.
- Pick's Disease: a rare type of dementia caused by genetic mutations on 17th chromosome, people with this type of dementia are often socially inappropriate with poor judgment.
- Parkinson's Disease: along with the movement problems of this disease can come dementia.
- Huntington's disease: a genetic disease associated with mutations on the 4th chromosome which causes early onset dementia in people 40s to 60s.
- Alcohol and Drug overuse: sustained use of alcohol/ and or drugs use can cause dementia.
- Depression: mental illness, especially depression can cause dementia. Dementia can also cause depression, so it is important for a doctor to distinguish cause and effect, but one clue is that with a person whose dementia is caused by depression, there will be an improvement in mental ability when depression is treated.
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: This is a treatable condition which affects some elderly people who show signs of balancing problems and bladder control problems along with memory loss.
- Metabolic disorders: having low sodium, low blood sugar or thyroid deficiency can cause dementia. All of these are treatable.
- Brain Tumors: lesions in the brain can cause dementia and are one of the reasons a person needs a medical exam.
- Infections: another important thing to rule out is dementia caused by illness and infections.
- Medications: some medications which are prescribed or taken over-the-counter can cause memory problems, especially when they are taken in excess or in particular combinations. Check for this by bringing all medications and supplements with the patient to the doctor's exam.
Dementia in Family
Do you have a grandparent, parent or sibling with dementia?
Steps to Take
If your loved one shows some of these early signs of memory loss, have them see a medical doctor as soon as possible. Why? Only a doctor can:
- Fully screen someone to see if they have mild cognitive impairment or dementia.
- Determine what the cause is of the memory impairment.
- Give medicines, treatments, and advice on how to deal with your loved one's memory loss.
- Suggest medications that might slow down Alzheimer's.
- Give you information about help and support that is available in your community.
I speak from experience. Once we were able to get my in-laws treated with proper medical supervision, their lives and ours improved immensely. In another situation, my mother's apparent memory loss turned out to be a hearing problem. With hearing aids, her "dementia" completely disappeared.
Do you have a question about dementia, or would you like to share an experience that could help others? Please share in the comments below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Do people suffering from dementia become violent?
If an individual has become violent, they are probably entering a middle stage of dementia. My father-in-law became verbally violent and we believe he also acted violently toward my mother-in-law, who ended up in the hospital twice. It was not easy for us to determine whether what happened was an accident or not. If someone becomes violent, it can be very difficult for the family, but it is even more important to take action, especially if there is anyone who could get hurt.Helpful 10
Could I ask my mom's doctor to run that test on her without her knowing?
I do not know whether that would be appropriate or allowed under the Hippa laws; however, if you have a concern about your mother's mental abilities, I think it can be appropriate to communicate that to the doctor by calling to talk with the doctor or nurse or making an appointment. The doctors are often able to do some simple testing as part of a regular exam and then can recommend further testing if they see an issue. You can also request to go with your mom to an appointment. What I would suggest is that you tell your mother that you know it is hard to remember everything the doctor is saying and so you are volunteering to go to write down what the doctor says (you can also volunteer to keep track of the questions she wants to ask) so that she can have that to refer to later. That can be a helpful way to become a part of the examination process and to get a sense of whether the doctor is aware of the memory problems you observe.