Advice Mind & Memory Care

How Can I Tell if This is Normal Aging or Early Signs of Dementia?

Woman and senior woman

Dear Benchmark,

I recently went home to spend a week with my 79-year old mother. We talk on the phone almost every day, but this was the first time in almost a year that I had the chance to visit in person. I was pretty surprised by a few of the changes I saw in her.

My mom has been a little forgetful the past few years, but it has gotten worse lately. She seems to misplace things like her glasses, her purse and the car keys quite often. And she has lost quite a bit of weight even though she isn’t trying. I also found a stack of unpaid (and unopened!) bills on the counter that went back over six weeks.

My question for you is this: are these typical signs of aging or could my mom be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s?


Recognizing Early Signs of Dementia in a Senior Loved One

Dear Donna:

Great question! Adult children who visit an older parent for the first time in a while often wonder if the changes they notice are normal signs of aging or the symptoms of a more serious health condition. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish.

While there are behaviors that can be red flags for Alzheimer’s, there are also treatable illnesses that mimic the disease. Let’s talk more about both.

According to the experts at the Alzheimer’s Association, the most common early warning signs of the disease are:

• Difficulty maintaining a conversation
• Trouble reading
• Struggling to complete familiar tasks
• Being confused about time or place
• Memory loss that disrupts everyday life
• Misplacing things
• Getting lost in a familiar environment
• Trouble driving a car
• Difficulty managing finances and paying bills
• Change in personality or disposition
• Withdrawing from favorite hobbies and social groups
• Loss of problem solving skills
• Change in personal appearance
• Giving away money or falling victim to fraud
• Forgetting appointments or events
• Change in how well the home is maintained
• Trouble planning menus and preparing meals
• Forgetting to eat

If more than a few of these signs could be used to describe your mother’s situation, it’s probably something that needs to be checked out by a doctor.

But don’t assume the worst.

Adult children often panic when a senior loved one begins exhibiting behaviors they associate with Alzheimer’s. In fact, there are other medical conditions with symptoms that mirror early dementia. Many of them are reversible including:

• A vitamin B-12 deficiency
• An infection in the body, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI)
• Thyroid disease
• Unstable blood sugar or diabetes
• Depression
• Medication interaction or side effect

The next step might be to share your concerns with your mother. If possible, sit down with her in person. Ask her how she is feeling with her situation and if she’s noticed the changes herself.

Then you will likely need to schedule an appointment for your mother with her primary care doctor. A physician is the best person to determine if her symptoms are caused by something that is typically easy to fix, like a low functioning thyroid, or if your mother needs additional testing.

And keep in mind, Benchmark Senior Living has a variety of senior housing options for older adults to consider.

As a long distance caregiver, it may give you peace of mind to know both short-term respite and memory care for people with dementia are available if you need it. Contact one of our communities to learn more.

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