The Early Signs of Dementia, and How to Infuse Your Days with Joy

Our company's mission is to help people who are living with dementia continue to do things on their own, as much as possible and for as long as possible. It preserves the independence and dignity that we all deserve, and eases some of the reliance on partners and children. 

To that end, we'd like to share some of the valuable information that we've gathered along the way about the early signs of dementia. The earlier you can identify what might be happening, the earlier you can seek treatment and even prolong the progression of symptoms 

Please note that we are not authorities on the subject and are merely sharing data from trusted sources. As recommended by the Alzheimer's Association, if you see the signs of dementia in yourself or a loved one, visit your doctor.  

Let's talk about some of the signs: 

Memory Loss: Memory loss is traditionally associated with dementia, though memory loss itself is a complex condition to diagnose because it can be caused by a variety of sources. Different types of dementia can cause different types of memory loss, and memory loss can also be caused by things like sleep disorders and medications. Trouble with short term memory – asking the same questions, repeating tasks, or failing to remember something that happened earlier that day is a more common sign of dementia. Memory issues associated with aging (like temporarily forgetting a name or forgetting about something that happened years ago) can be inconvenient but do not normally interfere with work, socializing or independent living.  
 
How to make life more joyfulIf short term memory seems to be a problem, try to be patient. The person does not realize they are repeating themselves and may become agitated or depressed if it's constantly pointed out to them. Visit a doctor for formal memory testing so that the appropriate cause can be identified and treatment given. On a day-to-day basis, the person with memory challenges can use an online agenda to reassure themselves of what they have done and what they still need to do. Depending on the type of memory loss, multi-media cues from that daily agenda can re-open the door to what needs to be remembered. 

Mood changes: You may observe an amplified version of certain personality traits, from sweet to aggressive. Paranoia is another common occurrence, as is becoming withdrawn (likely due to feeling concerned about other symptoms). Another possible change in personality could be a shift from shy to outgoing, as dementia can alter a person's judgment. You may notice an uncharacteristic listlessness about favorite activities or apathy towards other people. Many sources suggest that changes in personality can be a more prevalent of dementia than evidence of memory loss. 
 
How to make life more joyful Again, be patient. Do not try to argue with someone who is clearly convinced of something that you know isn't true – you will both end up upset. Try to understand that a person with symptoms of dementia may be living in a different reality from time to time – it is very real to them, and it's best to live in that moment with them. Provide empathy and reassurance. If you are the one experiencing these unexpected personality shifts (and a loved one has pointed it out to you), talk to your doctor about whether medications, dietary changes and exercise can help. Fatigue and agitation can lead to these shifts in personality, so try to be aware of how you're feeling and put your own self-care first.  

Difficulty with concentration and following instructions: If filling out a simple form or completing a familiar household chore poses a challenge, it could be a sign of dementia. Additionally, watch for an inability to learn a new task or a failure to recall what comes next in a daily routine.  
 
How to make life more joyfulEmpower your loved one (or yourself) by using tools that aid in independence. Filling out forms can be less daunting if you always have that pertinent information on hand. Instructions for common tasks can be recorded on a tablet to help cue what comes next. Focus on what you can do and find ways to adapt activities so that you can continue to feel confidence and joy each day. 

Language issues: Whether it becomes more of a challenge to express yourself, or to understand others, a loss of language can sometimes indicate a condition called aphasia which can be linked to Alzheimer's. Watch for a struggle to find the right words or to comprehend what would normally be an easy conversation. Even having trouble following a storyline in a movie can be linked to a communications issue. 
 
How to make life more joyfulDid you know that the combination of photos, text and audio can be very powerful for memory recall? For some people, seeing a photo with a caption beneath can magically unlock the name or description you were seeking. For other people, having an audio caption is what helps bring the right words to the surface – even more profound is the act of recording one's own voice to describe the important people, places, and experiences in your life. Using a digital tool to help with communications can help the person with language issues feel more empowered to speak for themselves. In general, you can build bridges to positive communication by remaining encouraging and calm. Do not interrupt or try to finish the person's sentences. Try different modes of communicating such as email or video chats. 

The MemorySparx One app is ideal for the person living with early- to mid-stage dementia. By having personal information, photos, audio, and health records stored in one easy-to-use iPad app, people can feel more empowered to do things on their own and speak for themselves. There is no substitute for a physician's advice, but we also recommend MemorySparx One as a proactive tool for independence. 

Download MemorySparx One for iPad, the first 30 days are free. Continue to do more, on your own, for longer. 

Heather Hickey