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Now that you’re paying attention and looking for subtle and not-so-subtle changes in your aging loved one, you may be wondering, what’s “normal” and what’s not? How do you know the difference between typical “senior moments”, or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and the early stages of dementia?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is defined by deficits in memory that do not significantly impact daily functioning. Memory problems may be minimal to mild and hardly noticeable to the individual. Writing reminders and taking notes allow a person to compensate for memory difficulties. To the untrained eye, the signs are not obvious, especially because people with good coping skills hide their frailties well.
Subtle Change in Short-Term Memory
Your elderly relative may be able to remember years past, but not what they had for breakfast. Short-term memory loss includes forgetting where they left something, struggling to remember why they went into a particular room, or forgetting what they were supposed to do on any given day.
Difficulty Finding the Right Words
Struggling to communicate thoughts the way you want to, is beyond not being able to recollect a certain word. This may mean that a person can’t seem to explain things. They may reach for the right words, but just can’t seem to grasp them, and the words don’t “come to them” as they often do for others.
Someone in the early stages of dementia may often show signs of confusion. When memory, thinking, or judgment lapses, confusion arises as your loved one can no longer remember faces, find the right words, or interact with people normally. Confusion can also be brought on by dehydration, urinary tract infections or drug interactions.
Difficulty Following Storylines
Just as finding and using the right words becomes difficult, people with dementia also sometimes forget the meanings of words they hear. Struggling to follow along with conversations or TV programs is a classic early warning sign.
A Failing Sense of Direction
Sense of direction and spatial orientation is a common function of thinking that starts to deteriorate with the onset of dementia. This can mean not recognizing once-familiar landmarks and forgetting regularly used directions. It also becomes more difficult to follow series of directions and step-by-step instructions.
You might notice your elderly parent or loved one repeat daily tasks like shaving or collecting items obsessively. They also may repeat the same questions in a conversation after you’ve already answered them.
Struggling to Adapt to Change
For someone in the early stages of dementia, the experience is frightening. Suddenly they can’t remember people they know or follow what others are saying. They can’t remember why they went to the store and get lost on the way home. Because of this, they might crave routine and not want to try new things.
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