What to do when a parent shows signs of dementia
You’re home for a visit and notice things seem to be a little “off” with your mom. She’s repeating the same questions you’ve already answered and she forgot how to make her favorite cookie recipe. Your sister who sees her all the time says, “She’s just getting older”, but you’re concerned it could be early signs of dementia.
Geriatric psychiatrist Shilpa Srinivasan, MD, explained what to look for.
What is dementia?
Dementia is a neurocognitive disorder that causes a progressive change in a person’s cognitive functioning. Most commonly this is due to Alzheimer’s disease.
What are the signs of dementia?
A person with dementia may experience behavioral or psychological signs and symptoms, including changes in mood and personality. They are usually unaware of their symptoms, which can include:
- Memory loss. Repeating the same stories, difficulty remembering names, dates or appointments are common signs. Some people may have significant difficulty finding words in a conversation.
- Impaired judgment.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks, such as driving, managing finances, preparing meals or taking medications correctly.
- Sadness, a depressed mood or even depression.
- Anxiety. Increased worry and fear without cause are a common symptom.
- Apathy. A lack of interest, motivation or desire to do things.
“Apathy can be a tricky thing to navigate because sometimes it can be misperceived as laziness or not wanting to do things, but it’s really about the underlying disease process that interferes with their ability to plan and start an activity,” said Dr. Srinivasan.
What can you do if your parent shows signs of dementia?
Dr. Srinivasan recommends helping your parent seek a diagnosis. A primary care physician is a good place to start and can guide you on where to go next.
She said there are situations when a specialist might be needed, such as if:
- The person is experiencing behavioral symptoms
- The person is under age 65
- There may be an underlying psychiatric disorder
- The person’s symptoms seem to be rapidly progressing
The specialist could be a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist. A neuropsychologist can also do further testing to determine if the problem is psychiatric or neurocognitive.
Although there is no cure for dementia, treatment can help slow the progression.
“A diagnosis of dementia is the start of a journey. It can be scary and anxiety provoking, not only for the person with dementia, but for family and caregivers as well. And that’s why navigating this journey from the point of diagnosis to what’s next and what lies ahead is important. The healthcare team, including the primary care provider and any specialists, is critical in helping you do that,” said Dr. Srinivasan.
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