There are few of us past the age of 60 who don’t feel a little tinge of anxiety over mislaid keys or a forgotten name. It’s really not about those missteps, is it though? It’s about the nagging feeling that it could be something more than something slipping your mind. Deep down inside, we all worry that any of these common missteps could be a sign of early dementia. While the occasional grasping for a name that should be on the tip of our tongue is not necessarily cause for worry, it’s a good thing to know when we should begin to pay attention and maybe think about what we can do to help keep our brains as sharp as they can be.
Pay Attention to the Troubling Signs
Early dementia is difficult to diagnose. Quite simply, many of the early signs can also be attributed to stress, reactions to medication, and having too much to do on our plate. But it’s important to note when mistakes or missteps begin to outweigh the times when you are feeling sharp and in command. When you start to ask whether you should be concerned- or if a friend or family member mentions something- that’s the time to simply do a check-in appointment to see your family doctor for a medical and cognitive evaluation. It may be something as simple as a medication change or having some basic tests done to make sure everything is ok- but without this check-in, you’ll never know for sure.
But it’s not bad, so why worry?
While there are now several promising medications that may help or even delay cognitive decline, they are only really helpful in the earliest stages of cognitive change. Because so many people put off addressing these subtle changes until much later on, they often miss the window to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related illnesses until there’s very little treatment available to change the course of the disease. That’s why keeping an eye on concerning changes as we age is an important first step to being proactive in maintaining brain health.
Understanding More About Dementia/Cognitive Changes
Short Term Memory Loss
While this is one of the most prevalent and worrying early signs of dementia, short-term memory loss can also be caused by some of the factors mentioned above. It is important to note that some memory loss is actually age-appropriate. In fact, many women experience a bit of this during perimenopause and menopause, due to hormonal changes.
Age-appropriate memory loss looks like forgetting what you were going to say but remembering it a few minutes later – or making an occasional small financial mistake or forgetting to pay a bill on time. Even momentarily forgetting the names of one of your friends or grandchildren can feel like you are missing a step. These one-off or occasional occurrences may feel concerning, but may be entirely appropriate for your age.
Basic good health advice is good brain health advice. Getting enough rest, eating well, and exercising regularly are all steps that can help you feel better and keep your brain healthier as well.
But if you are still feeling troubled and would like to be proactive in helping to keep your “brain healthy”, research has shown that certain “brain exercises” can help to boost your memory.
Brain Healthy Activities
The simple act of reading can keep your short term memory exercised and help keep you mentally sharp and informed. According to a study published in JAMA in 2018, Dementia risk was significantly lower among those who reported daily participation in intellectual activities, like reading books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as playing board games. The benefits of intellectual activity were independent of other health problems, lifestyle factors (fruit and vegetable intake, exercise, smoking, etc.), demographics and socioeconomic status, according to researchers.
Easy ways to stimulate your brain health are to subscribe to periodicals that make you consider and think. Or join a book club. If you are not a “joiner”, there are now many on-line game options like backgammon, mahjong and other activities that stimulate your memory, recall and strategic thinking skills.
Other Concerning Signs to Track
Other early warning symptoms for cognitive decline may include self-isolation, agitation and confusion- all of these can creep up on a person. They tend to be written off as “having a bad day or in a bad mood”. But if the “bad days” begin to outnumber the good days – it may be a sign of early dementia.
For example, mental confusion can range from a bit of cloudiness to a constant state of mental disarray. A commonly reported symptom of confusion is the inability to match a face with a name. Confusion may also cause a person to use poor judgment. In some cases, a person with dementia may cease to interact with people, withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed.
Again, we all can have moments when a name is just beyond our grasp or we fail to understand what is going on, but if you feel that your ability to correctly judge a situation is happening more often or that you or your loved one is increasingly unable to function independently, then a proper and complete evaluation is the necessary next step.
Deciding on a Care Plan
If after a medical evaluation you find that you or your loved one is truly experiencing the signs of dementia, it is important to make a care plan early on in the process. Making a care plan early on in the process while the patient can participate in the planning helps both the patient and family understand the potential progression of the disease. But more importantly it helps both patient and family create a plan that they are actually able to execute.
Discussions about advanced care planning are sensitive in nature and may need the input of specialists. So many factors need to go into a care plan that the active participation of potential caregivers, care recipient, financial advisor and your medical team are all critically important to planning for the best possible outcome for both the patient and family. Plus, being able to understand how the disease progression may impact the ability of the patient to receive care at home and for how long, from family members is important to know up front.
There are many care options available from home care with the assistance of family members and experienced home health care aids, to Personal Care living situations and Memory Care communities like Chandler Hall located in lovely Newtown, in Lower Bucks County, PA. Chandler Hall specializes in early and late-stage dementia care. What’s more, Chandler Hall’s Quaker-based Person-Centered Care staff is experienced in Memory Care, even at early stages when people are living independently in our residentia living and personal care residences, honoring the person within no matter what stage they are in their life’s journey. The caring team at Chandler Hall is committed to reinforcing the link to the individual – the person within. It is the Chandler Hall way.
Action is Everything
When talking about the potential for Memory Care, action is sometimes hard to take. Our innate sense of optimism and desire to carry on as we have been sometimes works against our best choices for a better outcome. But if you feel that you would like to have a conversation with a caring person who can help you sort out your options, I urge you to contact our experts here Chandler Hall. Just email Jeanene Reigel- Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 267-291-2302. We’ll be happy to help you process your concerns and help you formulate a plan for your next steps. Difficult discussions are never easy. But they can be made easier with the help of a caring and knowledgeable professional. Our goal is to help families navigate the journey, and understand all the options and the road ahead to make the choice that’s best for your family.