What to Do if You Think Your Parent Has Dementia

Although moments when parents forget key details can occur, as they become more frequent or more severe, you may be wondering if your parent has dementia and what to do next. This is a valid concern. After all, age is the number one contributing factor to the development of dementia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International, approximately 10 million new cases of dementia are diagnosed each year. This averages out to a new diagnosis every three seconds. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, approximately 46.8 million people across the globe have dementia. In 2017, it was estimated that the number of cases was close to 50 million. Experts estimate the number of people with dementia will almost double every 20 years, reaching 75 million in 2020 and 131.5 million in 2050.

Research indicates most people who have dementia have not been formally diagnosed. In high-income countries, such as the United States, it’s believed only 20-50% of dementia cases are formally documented. This is unfortunate because although there is currently no cure for most types of dementia, treatment can help with the symptoms, making life easier for all concerned.

What Is Dementia?

Although the chances of developing dementia increase with age, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process. Dementia is a brain syndrome that results from a brain disease or illness. Dementia affects memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Dementia is typically progressive or chronic. Some dementias, however, are reversible, and some diseases mimic dementia.

What to Do If You Think Your Parent Has Dementia

Although everyone experiences cognitive decline as they age, a time may come when you begin to notice something is off with your parent’s mental health. Perhaps their memory lapses have become more frequent or severe, or maybe there have been sudden changes in their personality or memory. If you suspect that your parent may have dementia, immediate steps must be taken to protect their health and  future.

Track the Symptoms

In the early stages of dementia, the symptoms can be sporadic. If you suspect that your parent has dementia, you will need to begin to track their symptoms. This will make it easier when you do have the conversation with your parent to provide specific examples you have noticed over time.

Early dementia signs and symptoms you need to document:

  • Memory loss is a common symptom of dementia, especially  recently learned information and recently experienced events.
  • Difficulties performing familiar tasks (at home or work) such as operating a computer, navigating to a familiar location, making a cup of tea or changing the settings on the TV.
  • Experiencing confusion about place or time such as forgetting where they are at any given time, struggling with dates, and having problems judging the passage of time.
  • Changes in mood or personality like becoming anxious, fearful, depressed or irritable. They may become disinhibited, leading to inappropriate acts, such as undressing in front of others or going outside with no clothes on.
  • Experience problem-solving difficulties or adversity when making and following plans such as following directions when driving or following a recipe. Adding up numbers when balancing the checkbook or paying bills can become difficult.
  • A person with dementia may misplace things, forgetting where they put everyday objects such as keys or the remote control. They may accuse others of stealing the things they have lost.
  • Difficulties with the comprehension of visual information. They may find it hard to read or judge distances. Driving or cycling may become difficult.
  • Writing and speaking can become more difficult. Handwriting can become less legible. Spelling, grammar and punctuation may suffer. Following conversations can be challenging as they forget what has been said. Entering into discussions may be difficult as well.
  • Withdraw from social situations, losing interest in interactions with others.
  • Poor decision-making and judgment, not understanding what is reasonable or fair. They may pay too much for something or be easily convinced to make unnecessary purchases. They may begin to pay less attention to personal hygiene and making themselves presentable.

A person would need to exhibit two or more of these symptoms, and they would need to be severe enough to interfere with their daily life to receive a dementia diagnosis.

Have an Open and Honest Conversation

Dementia is scary. It’s incredibly frightening to the person who may have it. If you suspect that your parent may have dementia, there’s a chance they may have their suspicions as well. However, they may be too afraid to voice their concerns, fearing that saying it out loud will make it real. They may also be nervous to bring the subject up with you. As a parent, they have always wanted to protect you.

For all these reasons and more, initiating a conversation about dementia will not be easy. You’ll need to pick a time when you and your parent can sit down in a relaxed and private setting. You can begin by asking them about their general happiness and health. If they don’t mention any dementia concerns, you’ll need to mention some of the symptoms you’ve noticed. You will have specific examples after having tracked their symptoms if they don’t admit difficulties.

See a Doctor

If your parent is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s time to see a medical professional. A doctor can determine if the decline in cognitive function is related to dementia or some other illness. Some cases of forgetfulness can be reversed when the cause is addressed quickly enough, such as a vitamin deficiency. Some illnesses, such as a bladder infection, can mimic dementia and will need to be treated, If the cause for the cognitive decline is dementia, a doctor can provide prescriptions that will help slow the progression of dementia and ease the symptoms

Generally, your primary care doctor will send your parent to a neurologist to get an accurate diagnosis.

Dementia Care at Sterling Aventura

Another essential step for children with parents suffering from dementia is to plan for the future. This includes finding the best place for parents to live out their lives in comfort and safety. The memory care community at Sterling Aventura can help. At Sterling Aventura, we help your parent maintain control of their purpose, joy and inspiration in life. We ensure that your parent leads a full and meaningful life in an environment of engagement, collaboration and community. Contact us to find out how we can help.