Recognizing warning signs of dementia

When you have an aging loved one, you might notice instances of memory lapses or confusion. You can help the loved one if you understand the differences between dementia and normal changes that come with aging.Link opens article at external site

Recognizing warning signs of dementia

Dr. Dwarak Vuppalapatti, Northern Nevada Medical Center
11:14 a.m. PDT March 10, 2015

When you have an aging loved one, you might notice instances of memory lapses or confusion. You can help the loved one if you understand the differences between dementia and normal changes that come with aging.

Dementias typically are progressive, which means that symptoms start slowly and worsen gradually. Types of dementia include:

  • Alzheimer’s disease, from which 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases result.
  • Vascular dementia, the second most common type, in which a stroke or series of strokes causes a chronic, reduced blood flow to the brain. Often, the strokes are so small that you might not notice any symptoms.
  • Lewy body dementia, which affects about 10 percent of dementia patients.
  • Frontotemporal dementia, a less common cause of dementia that tends to occur at a younger age than does Alzheimer’s disease, generally between 50 and 70.

Since Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia, you should know the warning signs of this disease.

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as forgetting recently learned information or important dates or events. A normal behavior of aging is occasionally forgetting names or appointments and remembering them later.
  • Difficulty in planning or solving problems, for example, changes in the ability to develop and follow a plan or to work with numbers.
  • Challenges in completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure, such as trouble managing a budget or remembering the rules of a favorite game. It would be normal, however, for an elderly person sometimes to need help with setting a microwave or recording a TV show.
  • Confusion with time or place, including losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time.
  • Trouble understanding visual images or spatial relationships. This could include having difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. Cataracts causing changes in vision, however, is a normal part of aging.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing, for example, trouble following or joining a conversation.
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, including putting things in unusual places.
  • Decreased or poor judgment, such as using poor judgment when dealing with money.
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities, such as trouble following a favorite sports team or completing a hobby.
  • Changes in mood and personality, including becoming confused, fearful, depressed, suspicious or anxious. Typically in aging a person will develop specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

If you notice any of these warning signs, speak with a physician soon. Early diagnosis of dementia offers the best opportunity for treatment, support and planning. You can gain the maximum benefit from available treatments, which can relieve symptoms and enable the patient to maintain independence longer.

You can take comfort in knowing that expert care is nearby. Northern Nevada Medical Center offers Alzheimer’s care at Senior Bridges, a 28-bed, secure, inpatient facility within the hospital.

Dwarak Vuppalapati, MD is the Northern Nevada Medical Center’s Medical Director for both the inpatient Senior Bridges and Medical Detoxification programs at the Sparks, NV, hospital. Dr. Vuppalapati graduated from medical school in India and completed his residency at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. His fellowship training was completed at Yale University in various subspecialties which included psychosomatics and addiction medicine. His post-doctoral fellowship training includes geriatrics and neuropsychiatry. Dr. Vuppalapati was an assistant clinical professor in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Vuppalapati is on the faculty for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Nevada Reno.

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