It’s highly likely that you’ve heard the phrase “senior moment” before, as it is often used in a light-hearted manner to describe an “oops” moment of forgetfulness. Senior moments are common – that time you were ready to run out the front door and hop in the car, only to forget where you stashed your car keys… that’s a senior moment. Or the time that you forgot where you parked your car when exiting the shopping mall – yes, another senior moment. Senior moments can happen to the best of us, and they don’t necessarily indicate a health or wellness concern when they present occasionally. But, many patients who suffer from dementia presented early on with symptoms that look and feel a lot like these “senior moments.” Here’s how to spot the differences:
With senior moments, bouts of forgetfulness are generally considered more of an annoyance than a true health concern. While circling the parking lot in search of a misplaced vehicle is no one’s idea of a good time, there are minimal health risks in doing so – in fact, a few extra steps a day may be quite healthy! And while forgetting where you’ve placed your keys can be frustrating, to say the least, it is generally not a life-threatening moment. These episodes can be lumped into the “senior moment” category, but when other, subtle, differences are witnessed, it can be a sign of early stage dementia. For concerned family members and friends of older individuals, it is important to keep an eye out for specific signs of impending dementia to ensure that proper care and treatment is administered as early as possible.
Early warning signs of dementia
Your elderly friend or family member may show signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease if you witness one or more of the following episodes:
- Problem with numbers: If your loved one has a problem completing simple arithmetic or subtraction problems – like balancing a checkbook or counting the number of items in the pantry, this can be an indication of cognitive decline. Something as simple as balancing a checkbook together can help you to keep an eye on this possible early warning sign.
- Word usage or speech patterns: Some individuals who may eventually suffer from dementia begin to alter their speech patterns or they may have difficulty using words that have never been problematic before. This may manifest itself in stuttering or searching for quite some time for the right words to use.
- Challenge with regular tasks: Keep an eye out if your senior friend has difficulty completing routine, around the house tasks or jobs. It is normal to see a senior move more slowly as they age – an unfortunate byproduct of weakened muscles, bones, and ligaments, but normal activities like folding clothing or remembering how to start a dishwasher may be a concern.
- Withdrawal from social events: Just as individuals who feel under the weather are less likely to want to party it up with friends, seniors who are feeling the beginning stages of dementia may also retreat from social situations. The reason is simple – those with dementia may find it difficult to remember people’s names, occupations, or other pertinent facts, and short-term memory concerns can make it difficult to maintain a comfortable conversation.
- Time or location confusion: Having a senior moment is one thing, but an individual completely forgetting where they are is another concern altogether. Also, if your senior friend or family member asks “when is breakfast?” – at three in the afternoon, clarify whether they really feel that it is breakfast time or if they simply want eggs for dinner. Being confused as to the time or present location is a possible indicator of a bigger concern.
- Misplacing items: We’ve all misplaced keys, phones, or wallets at one time or another, but the ability to retrace our steps is a saving grace that can help us to find our lost items. Those suffering from dementia are often unable to retrace their steps – so investigate whether your senior friend has actually lost an item, or whether there is a lack of ability to recall previous steps that may lead up to discovering the lost piece.
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above in your beloved senior, make sure that you schedule an appointment with a qualified health care professional as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment can help to stave off the effects of this debilitating condition – and early notice can provide friends and family members with plenty of time to arrange care services or treatment options. It is difficult to admit that dementia might be a reality for your loved one, but by combining early detection with compassionate care, you can make your senior feel as supported as possible.