What might Alzheimer’s look like?

Noticing the early signs in your parents.

Over the past few years, families have had to forgo a lot of together time due to COVID restrictions, so it’s no surprise that many of us can go months without being in the same room as our aging parents. If you’ve been communicating with your mom or dad primarily by phone or FaceTime, you might notice some worrisome changes when you’re finally in the same room together.

With more families finally getting to gather for the holidays, catching up with each other might evolve into getting caught up on mom or dad’s wellbeing. We all want our parents to stay vibrant and healthy, but disease can slowly and unfairly creep in. It can be unsettling to witness a significant change after long periods—and even more perplexing as to what to do.

And while the most active parent will naturally slow down a bit over time, some signs warrant further investigation. If something feels wrong, know the symptoms and trust your intuition:

Repeating the same question or story. Everyone has moments when they forget they’ve told an account already, but if you notice your mom asking you the same question repeatedly or that your dad is telling you about the neighbors for the third time in an hour, they could be struggling with short term memory. It might also present in the form of forgetting how to do simple tasks, like dialing a number or using a fork.

Confusion about how much time has passed, problems with time management. Alzheimer’s disease damages the part of the brain responsible for processing the passage of time, so your parent might think you’ve been gone hours when it’s only been a few minutes, or they might say that they hadn’t seen you in several years when it was just last month.

Failing to recognize or remember people. We all know how much family members can change, especially children, but if your parent struggles to remember loved ones, they could be showing signs of dementia. This may be one of the things that hurts the most, but try to remember this is out of your parent’s control.

Changes in appearance. Is your ordinarily polished mom looking disheveled? Has your dad lost a lot of weight? Check the refrigerator and cupboards for fresh food or signs of a recent trip to the grocery store. They may be forgetting meals.

Difficulty following the conversation. Hearing loss makes group conversations more challenging, but if your parent is not processing your one-on-one conversation, it may signify some cognitive challenges.

Poor judgment. Maybe your always practical dad is suddenly spending large amounts of money or crossing the street while traffic is coming. Maybe your sentimental mom has decided she’s going to sell everything and live in her minivan. One of the early signs of Alzheimer’s is the inability to assess short-and long-term consequences, so your parent might not understand the implications of their actions.

Dents in the car. Driving is a complex brain task involving many cerebral areas at once. Cognitively impaired drivers are a danger to themselves and everyone else. If you see dents or scratches on the car, it’s a strong indicator that your parent is struggling.

Mail or bills left unopened. Take note of untouched paperwork, past-due notices, or appointment reminders that have been ignored. Although we all procrastinate, people with dementia frequently avoid complex tasks like answering mail and paying bills.

Misplacing common items. If you notice stuff showing up in really odd places, this may be a sign of your parent’s diminishing cognitive function. Examples might include throwing trash in the bathtub, putting the litter box in the fridge, or putting their wallet in the microwave.

A decline in the household management. Aging parents naturally might fall behind on large-scale or highly physical tasks like yard work, but if your parents are not washing the dishes or doing the laundry, take some time to investigate what’s happening. They may be forgetting to do those chores.

Repetitive motions or habits. Sometimes a sign of dementia is the development of a new behavior, like ripping paper into tiny bits or drawing endless circles on a notepad. Sometimes it’s what seems to be irrelevantly reciting random numbers over and over again.

Moodiness or personality changes. An early indicator of dementia is an altered personality. If your mom’s sunny disposition is angry or your friendly dad withdraws from others, they could be suffering from cognitive changes or depression. Sometimes adult children will think their parents are being mean or unreasonable when it’s the disease of dementia that’s encumbering their mom or dad’s typical reactions.

Becoming overly paranoid. It’s good to have a healthy suspicion of strangers, especially if you’re a vulnerable elder. However, if your mom thinks the late-show host can actually see her through the TV screen or your dad insists that Siri wants to meet for coffee, investigate a little further. Don’t fully dismiss any strange claims, though. If there is someone who’s in contact with your parent that you don’t know, pay attention. Even if it sounds peculiar, they may be trying to tell you something.

Atypical dressing practices. Lots of people agonize over picking out an outfit, but if your parent is taking an unusually long time to change clothes, they may be having trouble remembering how to dress. Perhaps your always modest mom is walking around family members in extra skimpy attire. Or maybe your dad is wearing your mother’s nightgown—something you know he’d normally never do.

Neglected or sick pets. Dogs and cats are wonderful companions for seniors, but when a pet’s welfare is compromised, it might be an indication that your parent is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Check on your mom or dad’s beloved pet often. If you see empty water bowls, multiple carpet stains or accidents, or a very anxious animal, you might need to provide a place in your home for their furry friend.


How to Help Your Elder Parent

If the change in your mom or dad is dramatic or dangerous, it’s time to make an appointment with their general practitioner for a complete evaluation. You’ll want to accompany your parent to this appointment and communicate with the doctor in advance about any cognitive changes you’ve seen. Depending on your workload, your parent’s schedule, and the calendars of other family members, you may want to coordinate a virtual visit.

If the changes are slight, there is no reason to overwhelm your parent with your concerns. Spend time together and see if your parent brings up any problems they’ve been having. Enjoy these moments with your loved one and plan to keep a closer eye on them in the coming months. Talk to your siblings or your parent’s friends and neighbors and get their perspective. Enlist a few family members to check in regularly or start talking with your parent about having some additional help.

Remember, it can be hard to judge how your parent is doing in just a few busy days. Holidays aren’t always the best time to evaluate the situation, so make plans to check in on regular days, too. See if your parent is following through on planned doctor’s appointments or getting to their regular events. Observe their physical appearance and if the house seems abnormally cluttered or untidy. You might even keep a journal or voice memo to notice patterns versus one-time occurrences.


How Avalon Can Help

It may feel scary to suddenly face the possibility of dementia. While we aren’t here to replace a physician’s recommendations, we have the insight and experience to talk with you about options for your loved one. Our care professionals are trained in compassionate problem-solving and are passionate about helping seniors. You can reach us at (972) 713- 1383 or (888) 522-1918 to discuss the best route for your mom or dad.

By |2023-02-28T12:37:19-06:00February 28th, 2023|Categories: Alzheimer's, Avalon Memory Care, Dementia, Memory Care, Senior Health|0 Comments