Early diagnosis of dementia provides the best opportunities for treatment, support and planning for the future. The Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) has released the following list of signs and symptoms that can help individuals and family members recognize the beginnings of dementia. If you are concerned about any of these, be sure to see a doctor and, if suggested, begin treatment as soon as possible.
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Of concern: Forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events; repeatedly asking for the same information; relying on notes, devices or family members for things they used to handle on their own. Normal age-related change: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Of concern: Changes in the ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers, such as having trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills; difficulty concentrating and taking much longer to do things than before. Normal age-related change: Making an occasional error when balancing a checkbook.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure. Of concern: Finding it hard to complete daily tasks, such as driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game. Normal age-related change: Occasionally needing help to use settings on a microwave or to record a television show.
4. Confusion with time or place. Of concern: Losing track of dates, seasons and passage of time; trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately; forgetting where they are or how they got there. Normal age-related change: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Of concern: Vision problems that make it difficult to read, judge distance, and determine color and contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not recognize their own reflection. Normal age-related change: Vision problems due to cataracts.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. Of concern: Having trouble following or joining a conversation; stopping in the middle of a conversation with no idea how to continue, or repeating themselves; having problems finding the right word or calling things by the wrong name. Normal age-related change: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Of concern: Putting things in unusual places; losing things and not being able to go back over their steps to find them; accusing others of stealing from them. Normal age-related change: Misplacing items (glasses, car keys, remote control) from time to time.
8. Decreased or poor judgment. Of concern: Changes in judgment or decision making, especially when dealing with money, such as giving large amounts to telemarketers; paying less attention to personal hygiene. Normal age-related change: Making a bad decision once in a while.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Of concern: Not wanting to participate in hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports; having trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or completing a favorite hobby; avoiding social situations because of changes they are experiencing. Normal age-related change: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.
10. Changes in mood and personality. Of concern: Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious; becoming easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone. Normal age-related change: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.