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Warning signs of dementia: Is it me or does everyone forget?

Let's go to the races
Let's go to the racesPhoto by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

While all the aspects of aging are a common cause of anxiety, the possibility that we or our loved ones may suffer from dementia is probably at the top of the list of worries. What if it should happen in our family? How will we cope? What should we do?

Fortunately, there are organizations and support groups throughout the country that can provide help and advice for those who care for family members suffering from any of the forms of dementia. While every case is unique and every care giver is different, there is online and telephone support to anyone who needs it.

But first we should determine if we or our loved one actually has dementia. There is a difference between age-related memory loss and dementia. Someone with dementia may forget an entire experience while a person with age related memory loss may forget part of an experience and be able to remember it later. A person with age-related memory loss can usually follow notes they have written for themselves, take care of themselves and follow directions. Those with true dementia usually cannot take care of themselves.

For example, losing your keys or forgetting a word happens to all of us, young and old; it is just that we notice it more as we age and begin to worry. Watch for early warning signs, keeping in mind that if you or your loved one exhibits some of these behaviors some of the time, it does not mean they are afflicted with the disease. Being aware of these signs is not a substitute for a medical evaluation but it can help those with concerns.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, symptoms of dementia may include:

Trouble with new memories. Often a person can remember events and people from years ago but may have a problem remembering what he did this morning.

Trouble finding words. Again, we all have this at some time, but if it persists or happens quite often, this may be a sign that one needs a medical diagnosis.

Trouble completing familiar actions. For instance, if you have been comfortable and competent with a computer and now have trouble figuring out how to turn it on or use it, this may be a problem.

Misplacing familiar objects. Something isn’t necessarily wrong if you misplace the keys; the problems appear when the person forgets what the keys are used for.

Confusion about time, place, or people. Nothing is sadder than visiting an old friend or family member and discovering that he or she no longer recognizes you. If this happens often, don’t take it personally but seek medical help for the person.

Making bad or out of character decisions. This could range from obsessively watching the TV shopping networks to withdrawing money from the bank.

Seeing or hearing things.

Expressing false beliefs. Some patients express paranoia, are certain that a caregiver is hurting them or that a world wide disaster is imminent.

If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from dementia, don’t lose hope. There are many things you can do including getting a medical assessment. And continue to communicate, offer comfort and support.