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You Asked: How Can I Spot Early Signs of Dementia In an Aging Parent?

You Asked: How Can I Spot Early Signs of Dementia In an Aging Parent?
From TIME - October 11, 2017

Your father keeps misplacing his keys, or your mother repeats herself. Should you be worried about dementia? If those seemingly minor issues are new ones, youre right to be concerned.

People tend to attribute too much to normal aging and are a little dismissive of cognitive loss, says Dr. Paul Fishman, a professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a neurologist at UMDs Medical Center. Dementia is very common, and in general it is under-diagnosed, rather than over-diagnosed.

Roughly 9% of Americans have dementia, which is a blanket term for a loss of intellectual function that is severe enough to interfere with day-to-day life. That interference often takes the form of memory loss or confusion, but it could also manifest as poor hand-eye coordination, problems with tasks like cooking or operating a computer, or mood and behavioral changes ranging from depression to hostility.

Driving issues, especially struggling to find their way around areas they know, or not judging distance between cars, or making turns inappropriately, are all symptoms, Fishman says. Responding to telemarketers when thats out of character for them or struggling with finances are also worrying things.

But the number-one red flag a child or caregiver needs to watch out for is change. If someone is acting differently than they used to, thats good reason for them to see a doctor for an evaluation, Fishman says. That evaluation will include some form of cognitive assessmenteither quick or in-depth, depending on the persons symptomsand may also entail blood work or other tests to rule out non-Alzheimers factors.

In the majority of dementia casesat least 60%the loss of cognitive function will be caused by Alzheimers disease, says Gary Small, a professor and director of geriatric psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeless Brain Research Institute. Alzheimers is a neurodegenerative process in which abnormal plaques or deposits accumulate in brain regions controlling thinking and memory and other functions, he says. As that process progresses, it causes dementia.

While some drug treatments and lifestyle adjustments may slow the development of Alzheimers disease, there is no cure for the condition, Small says.

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