There are an estimated 30+ million cases of dementia worldwide according to the latest statistics. That amounts to a new case diagnosed about every 7 seconds, and the prevalence is projected to increase to more than 100 million people by the year 2050. This represents all the manifestations of dementia, not just the most dreaded dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. With this rising prevalence, you won’t be surprised to hear that one of the more common questions I get from the people with whom I work as a geriatric care manager goes something like this: “Is it dementia in my parent or is it just forgetfulness?”
Let me start by reassuring you that we all forget some things some of the time, so just forgetfulness is not the cause for alarm we may think. But at the same time, the forgetfulness or other early manifestations of dementia can be hard to spot, because loving caregivers tend to cover for their partners so that outsiders will not know. Let me share some of the signs that your older loved one’s memory may deserve some attention by a professional.
1. Is the forgetfulness obvious in the form of an accumulation of unopened mail or newspapers and magazines piling up, seemingly unread? Does your loved one miss appointments with increasing regularity or have prescriptions that have gone unfilled? While no one case like this should be a huge cause for alarm, a pattern can suggest the beginning of something more serious that just forgetfulness. Be careful to look for larger patterns, not just the occasional slip.
2. If you are at all involved in your loved one’s finances such as helping to pay bills or to balance the check book, do you notice irregularities? Have they paid a bill more than once or missed a recurring bill entirely? Are they losing money or hiding stashes of cash? Beware, because some of these may also be signs that your loved one is being financially exploited.
3. Do you notice telltale burns or bruises that show some lack of attention to kitchen duties or other work around the house? Yet, don’t make a lot of a little as these may also be signs of weakness that are just part of getting older.
If you have noticed any of these warning signs, please appreciate that they may be warning you of something other than dementia. Has your loved one’s alcoholic consumption changed recently, or are their medications manifesting some side effects or interactions? Something as basic as your loved one using diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can cause forgetfulness the day after using it for allergies or as a sleep aid. And alcohol consumption can exacerbate this fuzziness. One of the more common ailments of older individuals is depression which can distract them from the attentiveness they may have shown when they were younger. Be alert to recent losses or changes that may have precipitated the blues as an explanation for forgetfulness or absent-mindedness.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.