Everyone has those days. You forget to turn off the coffeemaker. The spelling of a simple word eludes. You can’t place a name, a face or both. Oh, and where are my keys? Again.
But how can you tell if it’s just a so-called “senior moment” or something much more serious, like the onset of dementia? As hard as it is to recognize these changes in ourselves, it becomes even harder (and heartbreaking) to observe these symptoms in those we love. Still, like any ailment, early detection is always best.
Read on for the most common warning signs of dementia, and ways you can protect yourself against the disease.
Recent memory loss. It’s natural to forget things and then suddenly remember them later, but people with dementia often forget things permanently.
Problems with abstract thinking, language and judgment. Everyone can have a mental blip, but when a person forgets what numbers are and how to use them, there may be a bigger problem. Other warning signs: using the wrong words and forgetting to put on a coat before going out in cold weather.
Difficulty performing familiar tasks. From cooking to driving, people suffering from dementia can lose the ability to perform basic tasks.
Misplacing things. If you are visiting someone’s house and see an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl, pay attention! This is another warning sign.
Changes in personality and mood. We all experience shifts in emotions, but people with dementia may have fast mood swings, going from calm to tears to anger in a few minutes. Some studies have even noted that a person’s musical tastes change when they have dementia.
Loss of initiative. Another warning sign to watch for is when a person becomes passive and loses interest in close relationships.
Time and place disorientation. People who have dementia may get lost in familiar settings, sometimes forgetting how they got to a certain place and how to get back home.
Luckily, there are ways to help minimize the chances of developing dementia. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: Exercise and healthful eating play a huge role in the mind’s well being. Here are some healthy lifestyle activities that, if implemented in midlife, can reduce the odds of developing dementia:
Eat well. Your brain is what you eat. In addition to a regular multivitamin and lots of water consider foods rich in antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and HDL “good” cholesterol.
Exercise. Just 20-30 minutes of physical exercise a few times a week can dramatically cut your risk for developing numerous health ailments, including dementia.
Stay mentally active. Your brain needs exercise, too; keeping your brain active and challenged is crucial to mental health. Challenge yourself to games like Sudoku, Scrabble and Jeopardy. The benefits come from the attempt not getting all the right answers.
Regular health check-ups. It’s crucial to visit your doctor regularly, and always trust your intuition. If something feels wrong, get it checked out.
Stay socially active. As tempting as it is to sometimes disengage from the world outside, always make time for the three-dimensional people in your life. You might think they’re driving you crazy, but they’re really keeping you sane.
Additional resources and Web sites
For more information relating to dementia, Sunrise Assisted Living of Wilmette specializes in dementia care and has a library of data and information available to the public. Contact Sunrise Assisted Living of Wilmette at 847-256-1600.
Reduce Your Risk (links)
Better Health (links)