Warning Signs of Dementia

by Jamie Wilson

Originally published in Senior Pathways

To understand the warning signs of dementia, one must first understand what dementia is.  Dementia is a term used to describe a series of symptoms such as progressive memory loss, confusion, hallucinations and poor judgement.  If a person is experiencing these types of symptoms, a medical professional would say they have dementia.  At that point the type of dementia would need to be determined if possible.  Alzheimer’s Disease is the most commonly diagnosed form of dementia, but there are several types such as vascular dementia, Lewy Body Disease, FTD, Huntington’s Disease and dementias caused by traumatic brain injury or alcohol abuse. These dementias are all considered irreversible but there are medications to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.

There are also reversible dementias that can be caused by medications, infections, stress, grief, depression or other mental illness issues.  Proper treatment and medication can often clear the symptoms with no longer term effect which is why it is critical to seek medical help as soon as possible.

Common Warning Signs

  • Short term memory loss
  • Repeating questions or stories
  • Loss of time
  • Difficulty with executive function such as balancing the check book
  • Mood changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Inability to remember names or words
  • Losing items
  • Forgetting appointments or medications
  • Decline in hygiene
  • Confusion
  • Getting lost going to familiar places
  • Hallucinations
  • In appropriate behaviors or language
  • Depression

These symptoms can come on very quickly or show up over a longer period of time depending on the type of dementia.

Important Tip – Finding a Physician

When dealing with a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease it is important to work with the right physician. Geriatric physicians and Neurologists typically have the most experience with dementia and therefore are aware of the most current treatment options. Regardless of the physician’s specialty, full testing should be completed to rule out reversible dementias and determine which type of dementia is causing the symptoms. These tests usually include a physical exam, review of medications, testing of blood and urine, CAT scan or MRI, memory tests and a review with a neuro-pyschologist.  These test are painless and non invasive and are critical in acquiring an accurate diagnosis and determining the best treatment options.  Specialty physicians will work with General Practitioners if a patient wants to continue to see there family doctor as well. Getting a second opinion in a dementia diagnosis is always prudent.

Important Tip – Preparing for Change

Most irreversible dementias are progressive and impact many facets of daily life.  Understanding what is to come and being prepared for the changes will make the journey much easier.  As the person with dementia loses function, caregivers will need to address the following issues:

  • Driving – persons with dementia SHOULD NOT DRIVE
  • Managing finances – at minimum this should be supervised
  • Safety concerns – medication administration, cooking, wandering, etc
  • Review of needed legal documents and an estate plan
  • Review of finances available for care
  • Understanding of care options – home care, memory care, skilled nursing
  • Development of a care plan
  • Knowledge of local resources
  • Options for caregiver/family support

The dementia journey is not an easy one and it is not one that a caregiver should attempt to embark on alone. Thankfully, there are national and local resources that can assist with all the issues listed above and they can help make the process easier for everyone involved. With faith and an open heart there can be blessings found in the trials that dementia brings.

James 1:2-6: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.


About the Author

Rev. Jamie Wilson Headley – CDP, CDI, CSA, MBA President & CEO Dementia Services Group is a full service dementia consulting company that works directly with families dealing with a dementia diagnosis, acting as a navigator, advisor and advocate. DSG also provides dementia training to industry professionals and the community at large. Ms Wilson is a sought after public speaker on dementia and aging. Jamie has been trained by the Alzheimer’s Association of America as a Dementia Professional, and has been certified by the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners as a Certified Dementia Practitioner and as an Instructor. Ms Wilson has also been trained as a Certified Senior Advisor and is an ordained non -denominational minister. Jamie has a great deal of personal experience with dementia as well as her professional training. Jamie’s mother died of Alzheimer’s disease. As her Mother’s caretaker and advocate, Jamie gained a wealth of knowledge, much of it she quips, on “what NOT to do”. In addition, Jamie holds a BA and MBA from Dominican University in River Forest, IL and spent her “former life” as an operations executive working with fortune 500 companies. Jamie was hired by companies for her expertise in crisis management, strategic planning, leading through change and training and development. This expertise transfers into her work as an advocate, advisor and educator. The mission of DSG is to improve the lives of those living with dementia by offering support, advocacy and advice to individuals and families and by providing education to healthcare professionals and senior providers. This is Jamie’s passion, her purpose and her ministry.