Recognizing and Caring for Dementia

Tim Watt  |  August 25, 2011

Mother and daugher talkingAlzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia are growing problems across the country. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that one out of every eight baby boomers will develop the condition in the coming years. Currently, 5.4 million Americans are living with the disease.

That doesn't mean that dementia is always obvious. The symptoms can be subtle and those suffering from memory loss will sometimes make an effort to disguise the disease as the normal changes of old age.

"Your aging parent may have noticed being unable to remember things for some time. Dad will compensate by changing the subject, or finding some other words to replace the ones he can't find," geriatric nursing expert Carolyn Rosenblatt writes for Forbes magazine. "But he might just stop in the middle of a sentence. He works at covering up the problem."

She warns that family caregivers should never ignore a senior moment. Instead, look for other signs that there may be a chronic condition developing. Rosenblatt shared the story of her friend, Jaclyn, whose 86-year-old father is a mathematician, but suddenly forgot how to make coffee - something he has been doing for decades.

"Dad refused to try a new card game, something he's always loved to do in the past. He is having more and more trouble learning any new information, say nothing of keeping track of the information he already knows," Rosenblatt explains.

If a senior is showing similar changes in behavior or mental health, then it may be time to take proactive steps. Paula Spencer Scott, the senior editor of Caring.com, recently wrote about some of the most prominent signs of Alzheimer's disease.

First, look for shifts in attitude. A parent who used to be outgoing and fun, but is starting to become withdrawn, may be developing dementia and be in need of Alzheimer's care. Likewise, mood swings or irritability could be warning signs.

If a loved one is having problems with decision making or completing tasks that used to be easy, caregivers should also be concerned. Scott writes that difficulties with vision and language can be symptoms of dementia, too. In this case, families may want to consider transitioning an older adult to a senior living community, where he or she can stay active, engaged and safe.

There is currently no way to reliably diagnose Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, but that may be changing soon. A New Jersey-based researcher recently developed technology to detect the disease from a single drop of blood within 24 hours, according to The Star-Ledger

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