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Is Dad Okay? Early Signs of Dementia and What To Do If You See Them

If you are a child with aging parents, you may be watching them closely and wondering if some of their actions are signs of normal aging or if it could be something more. Here are a few signs that your loved one may be experiencing the early stages of dementia – and what to do about it.

  • Your parent is having difficult handling everyday tasks or has a sudden change in personality.

You may notice that your parent is dressing differently or inappropriately for the weather or the occasion. Tasks that used to come easily to them may now be confusing or difficult for them to manage. Perhaps your parent gets confused or lost in everyday conversations – they may even lash out in anger or irritation when that was not normally their personality. Any of these changes could be a sign that your loved one is suffering from dementia.

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  • Your parent is having trouble managing their finances.

Your parent may forget to pay the bills or pay them twice, not remembering they had already been paid. If your parent was previously someone who had their finances in order and you start to notice that they are getting “past due” notices in the mail, that could be a sign that they are getting more forgetful. Your parent may no longer remember things like how to write a check or who to send the water bill payment to.

  • Your parent has begun misplacing or losing items.

You may notice that your dad has begun misplacing items – perhaps you have seen his keys in the refrigerator, or he put the milk in the pantry. Maybe your mother’s previously immaculate house is now in a state of disarray, or she can never find her purse when it’s time to leave the house. Although we are all absent-minded at times, these types of sudden changes could be a sign that something more is going on.

  • Your parent is getting lost or confused while driving or walking.

If your parents are still driving, you may notice that they are getting lost more frequently or taking longer to arrive at their destination. There may be unexplained scratches or dents on their vehicle. If your parents frequently go on walks around the neighborhood, there could be incidents where they get lost or it takes longer for them to remember how to get home. Getting lost or disoriented on normal routes is a major sign of early dementia.

So, what can you do if you suspect that your parent or loved one may have dementia or cognitive impairment? Here are a few important steps to take:

  • Make sure your parent has an estate plan in place. If your parent does not already have an estate plan – a will and/or trust, a power of attorney, an advance medical directive, and other related documents – make sure that you talk to them about visiting an estate planning attorney as soon as possible so that they can create their estate planning documents. If you wait too long, your parent may not have the mental capacity to sign documents, which could mean that you have to go to court to become their guardian or conservator. The sooner your parent implements a plan, the easier things will be if they are no longer able to manage their finances. If your parent already has a plan in place, it is still a good idea to meet with their attorney to make sure there are no changes or updates needed to the plan. Estate planning documents should be reviewed every three to five years.
  • Make an appointment with your parent’s general practitioner. If you notice that there are potential changes in your parent’s cognitive abilities, talk to them about making an appointment with their doctor to discuss your concerns. If their doctor agrees that there are potential impairments, they can make a referral to a neurologist or another specialist to do further evaluations, make a diagnosis, and come up with a care plan.
  • Have a family meeting. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, it can be a good idea to have a meeting with family and anyone else who will be a part of your parent’s care to discuss the plan moving forward. Topics of this meeting might include making a plan for who is going to provide care for your loved one (whether it be family, friends, or professional caregivers), deciding who is going to help your parent make financial and medical decisions, or simply opening up a dialogue so that everyone is comfortable discussing the diagnosis.

Having a parent or other loved one who you think might have dementia or cognitive impairment can be upsetting and scary. If you suspect that you may find yourself in this situation, it is important to make a plan and seek medical help as soon as possible. The earlier that your loved one makes a plan and seeks medical care, the easier it can be to learn to manage and live with any potential diagnosis.


ASK JOLENE

Hook Law Center: Jolene, is it true that dogs can show grief when another dog dies?

Jolene: This is an interesting topic and one that many have considered before. A new study published in Scientific Reports has found that dogs who lived with a companion dog that died changed their activities as well as their emotions as a result of the death. The study, which focus on 426 dog-owner households in Italy, found that a dog may show grief-related behavior and emotional patterns that could mirror their owner’s emotional status. Some of these changes included seeking more attention, playing less, and sleeping more. If you have recently lost a pet, be sure to give your surviving pets a little extra attention.

Posted in Senior Law News