While not a specific disease, dementia is classified as a group of conditions that significantly impair a person’s memory and judgment. Symptoms include forgetfulness, limited social skills, impaired cognitive skills, emotional problems, difficulties with language, and a decrease in motivation. In aggregate, these symptoms will gradually increase to the extent that they affect a person’s normal functioning and daily life, causing significant distress in the process.
Moreover, because the onset of dementia-related symptoms tends to be slow (and because many caregivers attribute these symptoms to a patient’s natural aging), it can be difficult for caregivers to notice the signs of the condition in its early stages. With that in mind, this guide hopes to address the most common early-stage dementia symptoms so that you identify if your loved one may need dementia hospice care.
Slight Short Term Memory Lapses
In the beginning stages of dementia, a person’s long-term memory could be as sharp as ever—allowing them to retain distant memories just fine. It’s their short-term memory that will start to decline, and that caregivers would do well to take notice of. People with dementia may have trouble remembering recent events, such as were they went earlier in the day, or who they recently spoke to on the phone. They may also forget what they were recently doing (such as why they entered a room), which often contributes to another symptom: frequent pacing.
Increasing Amounts of Apathy
One of the primary factors that distinguish dementia is internal damage to a person’s brain cells. This handicap essentially weakens the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, making it hard to retain and learn new information. For this reason, early dementia often manifests as lethargy, or a lack of interest, initiative and motivation. People with dementia tend to withdraw from their favorite hobbies and activities, whether it be watching tv, playing a sport or talking to their loved ones. For these reasons, dementia is often mistaken for depression, when, in fact, it is simply their brains way of responding to a new mental handicap.
Frequent Mood Swings
People with dementia can have rapid and frequent mood swings, for no apparent reason. Moreover, they can become upset, suspicious, or confused at random, and for some people, disinhibited and/or more sociable. Other common mood changes include frequent apathy, anxiety, sadness, anger and cheerfulness, as well as becoming more emotional in general.
Word-finding difficulty, or “difficulty choosing or recalling the right word to adequately express a thought,” is a common symptom of dementia. Patients will commonly have “tip of the tongue” experiences whereby they can’t think of the right word to continue a sentence. Other common experiences include hesitating before speaking, inevitably using an incorrect yet similar sounding word, or describing words by what they mean instead of explicitly using them.
Difficulty Completing Normal Day to Day Tasks
Dementia often causes a person to struggle to complete everyday tasks that he or she has completed hundreds if not thousands of times before. For example, people suffering from dementia may forget where the tv remote is or how to use it. Former home-cooks will find it difficult to follow a recipe or boil water or use the oven. Many people will fail to follow standard operation and safety procedures when driving, such as stopping at red lights or putting on their safety belt. Dementia hospice care givers and volunteers help individuals carry out activities of daily living, or ADLs.
Inability to Follow Stories
Just as dementia makes it difficult to find the right words and articulate their thoughts, people often struggle to follow stories as well. This can appear both in the form of finding it increasingly strenuous to follow a conversation as well as finding it difficult to follow along in a TV show or movie. You can check for this by looking for signs as to whether or not your loved one is paying attention when you’re telling them something and by asking them clarifying questions to ensure that they are on the same page.
Increased Amount of Confusion
One of the most prominent symptoms of the impaired cognitive functioning caused by dementia is memory loss and confusion. At first, these changes can be subtle; a person may have difficulty recalling recent events, processing information or making decisions. . As dementia progresses, unfortunately, people may become confused about the purpose of common items (silverware, pens, etc.) or show unusual difficulty performing common mental tasks such as planning or prioritizing.
Closely associated with increased confusion is disorientation, another common dementia-related symptom. A person might forget where they are or where they were going (often causing them to get lost while driving or walking around their neighborhood). They might also begin to forget the current time, misconstrue the passage of time or get lost in a familiar environment.
A person with dementia may do or say something over and over, often repeating words, questions or activities, or undoing a task they have just completed. Because people are generally habitual creatures, we often do or say the same things. However, because dementia deteriorates the brain, those suffering from it may lose their short-term ability to recall if and when they said or did something recently. Thus, repetition happens because the person has simply lost the ability to remember that they made the statement, asked the question or completed the task, to begin with.
Not Being Able to Adapt to Changes
Difficulty coping with and adapting to change is a typical symptom of early dementia, often the result of a person’s natural desire for continuity and security. As a result, patients will often crave routine and be afraid of novel experiences.
Talk to Harbor Light Hospice Today
Due to the slow progression of dementia, it can be difficult for family members to discern between dementia and symptoms associated with old-age. In addition, knowing the severity of dementia (be it in the early or mid-stages) can also be hard to detect, often causing families to needlessly prolong reaching out for help from a dementia hospice care service provider.
Harbor Light Hospice can assess your family-member to determine the acuteness of their condition and see whether they meet the criteria to begin hospice care. Starting the hospice conversation early means you will have sufficient time to address all of your concerns and questions and plan ahead for the future. Contact us today to learn more about our dementia hospice care services and ask about scheduling a consultation.