As you sat across from your elderly parent at the kitchen table, did you find it hard to ignore the small changes in their personality and behavior since your last visit? Perhaps your mom couldn’t recall a recent conversation or found herself unable to complete tasks that used to be second nature.
It can be difficult and emotionally taxing to witness your loved one, particularly your elderly parent, experience difficulty with their memory or completing tasks they used to do with ease. In this blog, we aim to shed light on these behavioral and personality changes, which could be early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (also referred to as “Alzheimer’s”).
Our goal is to provide you with helpful information and guidance on how you can support your loved one during this challenging time.
At Jarvis Law Office, we protect seniors and those who love them. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at (740) 653-3450 to schedule your FREE consultation with a member of our elder law attorney team.
What Causes Personality Changes in the Elderly?
Several factors can contribute to personality changes in the elderly, including the following:
- Cognitive Decline: As the brain ages, it can become more susceptible to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, leading to changes in memory, thinking, and behavior.
- Physical Health: Chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, can lead to changes in energy levels and mood, affecting personality.
For example, if your elderly parent is dealing with vision or hearing loss, it can be challenging to engage with the world. Even something like an untreated urinary tract infection causing interrupted sleep can contribute to personality changes.
- Medications: Many medications used to treat chronic health conditions can have side effects that affect personality, such as sedation or confusion.
- Social Isolation: Elderly individuals isolated from family and friends may become withdrawn and less outgoing. For example, many older adults suffered from loneliness resulting from long periods of isolation from family and friends due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
- Loss: The loss of loved ones, friends, and familiar surroundings can lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and depression.
- Life Events: Life events such as retirement, moving, and changes in financial status can also affect an older person’s personality.
At this point, you might be wondering, “Since there are many factors that could apply to changes in my parent’s personality, how do I determine if the changes I’m noticing are early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s?”
Let’s look at dementia and Alzheimer’s more closely to help answer that question.
What is the Difference between Dementia and Alzheimer’s?
If you’re confused about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s, you’re not alone. This is one of the most frequently asked questions healthcare providers are asked.
Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a decline in cognitive function, including memory loss and thinking abilities.
- Though there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease affecting memory, thinking, and behavior.
- The symptoms of Alzheimer’s overlap with other types of dementia, but there can be some differences. The differences in symptoms can be explained by the area of the brain each type of dementia affects.
- Only a proper diagnosis from a specialist can confirm whether your parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
- According to one article, an estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s worsens over time, and currently, there is no cure.
Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
Most people in the mild stage of dementia or Alzheimer’s can function independently in many areas. Your elderly parent may still be able to go about daily activities like driving, working, and socializing but may need help with other tasks.
Some early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease might include the following:
- One of the earliest signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s is difficulty with short-term memory. This can manifest as forgetting recently learned information, such as a new phone number or the name of a new acquaintance, or forgetting something that happened yesterday or an hour ago.
- Another early sign is difficulty recalling details of a conversation. This can include forgetting key points of a conversation or confusing details from different conversations.
Difficulty with Familiar Tasks
- If your parent is having difficulty with familiar tasks, such as cooking or managing finances, this can be another early sign. For example, your parent may forget how to prepare a favorite recipe or make mistakes when handling money.
Confusion and Disorientation
- Confusion and disorientation can also be early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This can manifest as getting lost in new or unfamiliar places or feeling confused about the time and place. Some examples are getting lost while driving or missing appointments.
Difficulty with Communication and Language
- Difficulty with communication and language is another early sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This can manifest as trouble finding the right words or having difficulty speaking clearly and understanding spoken language.
Mood Swings and Behavioral Changes
- Mood swings and behavioral changes can also be early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This can manifest as anxiety, depression, or agitation.
- Another symptom is a change in impulse control, resulting in behaving in out-of-character ways. This could include acting impulsively, making inappropriate comments, or having sudden mood swings.
- Symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease overlap.
- Everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease has dementia.
- Not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease. There are other diseases and issues that can cause dementia. However, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause.
- Alzheimer’s worsens over time and can’t be reversed or cured – unlike other types of dementia.
- When Alzheimer’s is the cause of dementia, there are some medications in some cases that may slow down the development of symptoms for up to two years to help people manage daily life as long as possible.
During the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the symptoms may not be evident to everyone, but family and friends may notice something is off.
A healthcare provider needs to use specific diagnostic tools to diagnose the cause of symptoms your elderly parent may be experiencing to make a correct diagnosis.
Reasons Dementia-Like Symptoms May Be Something Else
Keep in mind that not all people with symptoms similar to dementia actually have a progressive brain disease like Alzheimer’s.
There are other reasons why someone might experience these symptoms, like depression, sleep apnea that hasn’t been treated, delirium, medication side effects, Lyme disease, thyroid issues, certain vitamin deficiencies, and excessive alcohol consumption.
The good news is that these causes of dementia-like symptoms can often be reversed with proper treatment.
Responding to Early Signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s in Your Aging Parent
Here are some steps you can take if you have concerns that your parent is dealing with the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s:
Obtain a Correct Diagnosis from a Trained Healthcare Provider
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are typically diagnosed by a neurologist or geriatrician, both of which are medical doctors who specialize in the care of older adults.
Neurologists are specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, while geriatricians are specialists in the care of older adults, including the diagnosis and treatment of age-related conditions like dementia.
In addition, a geriatric psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in the mental health of older adults, including the diagnosis and treatment of dementia and other cognitive disorders.
It’s worth noting that a primary care physician can also diagnose dementia, but they might refer the patient to a specialist for confirmation and management of the condition.
Create a Care Plan with the Help of Healthcare Professionals
If your loved one has been diagnosed with early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, create a care plan with the help of healthcare professionals.
The plan should include a schedule for medication, therapy, and other treatments and include any additional support or resources that your parent needs.
Communicate with Other Family Members about the Changes in Your Elderly Parent
Communicate with other family members about the changes you’ve noticed in your elderly parent. This can help ensure everyone is on the same page and aware of the care plan and any necessary adjustments, and what role they play in the person’s care.
Seek Out Support Groups and Resources for Family Caregivers
Be sure to seek out support groups and resources for family caregivers. These can provide valuable information, support, and a sense of community with others going through similar experiences.
Encourage Your Elderly Parent to Engage in Activities that Promote Cognitive Health
Finally, encourage your parent to engage in activities that promote cognitive health, such as reading, puzzles, or social activities. This can help slow the disease’s progression and improve quality of life.
How an Ohio Elder Law Attorney Can Help
With proper planning, your elderly parent’s needs can be met so they can lead a dignified life, even after age and illness begin to take its toll due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. An elder law attorney can assist your parent with the following:
- Medicaid planning
- Long-term care planning
- Memory care planning
- Advance directives
- Will and trust planning
- Estate planning
- Avoiding probate
- Business succession planning
- Special needs planning
We discussed how an elder law attorney can help with proper planning in more detail in an article you can read here.
Jarvis Law Office: Your Southeast and Central Ohio Attorneys for Elderly Parents
At Jarvis Law Office, we protect seniors and those who love them. We understand how important it is for Ohio residents to age with dignity and on their terms.
We can help your elderly parent plan now to give them and their loved ones peace of mind about their future as they deal with the early signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Our Ohio elder law attorney team provides elder law services such as long-term and memory care planning.
Jarvis Law Office provides FREE consultations, in-person workshops, and monthly webinars for Ohio seniors and their loved ones. If a family member is dealing with the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, our skilled elder law attorneys can help start planning to protect what matters most to them.
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