Being dementia-aware is the strongest asset a caregiver can possess. By this I mean having a thorough understanding of the disease and the best methods to provide compassionate care. In seminars and talks I conduct with caregivers across the country, I remind them of a devastating truth: dementia cannot be stopped, fixed or changed. This is the foundation that leads to the best care. Once caregivers grasp this philosophy, then they begin to see its wisdom and practicality. And they can begin to enjoy meaningful moments with their loved ones.
One of the first steps to becoming dementia-aware is knowing about the symptoms. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of six symptoms that may present themselves during the early stages of dementia.
Unable to recognize sarcasm
When a person is unable to pick up on tones and tenor of some sarcastic remark, it could be an unwelcome sign. Furthermore, some patients have difficulty figuring out fact from fiction.
The dangers of dementia are not just what’s happening inside the patient’s mind. Frequent falling could also be an early sign of dementia. Some patients may be unable to catch themselves during a fall as well. It’s a vicious cycle that makes this symptom that much more dangerous.
The ability to control their eye movement decreases. When this happens, the patient may be reading a book, but unknowingly skip lines. Or, their line of view is shifted because of their inability to use normal eye movement, causing the appearance of staring.
Loss of knowledge
The devastation of memory loss is equaled to, or surpassed by, the loss of knowledge. Unlike losing the ability to name objects and loved ones, losing knowledge of an object also strips the person’s ability to know how to use it. They may also lose some language because of this.
A sudden reversal of personality – from considerate to crass – can be an early sign of dementia. Because some may begin to lose the ability to read social norms or detect sarcasm, their ability to understand others is also lost. Patients may hurl insults at others without really knowing it, as a result. And sadly, interactions among loved ones could leave some saddened by the abrupt change of personality and unintended disregard of good manners.
Patterns and routines
For some, this is an unexpected symptom of dementia. Your loved one may begin to exhibit compulsive behaviors. Yes, habits are normal, but a person with dementia may begin to take acceptable norms to an extreme level. For example, your loved one may overly insist on doing something their way, simply out of habit.
In my work with caregivers and patients with dementia, I am well acquainted with these symptoms. In my practice of helping caregivers understand and manage patients with dementia, I know the extent to which these symptoms can inflict pain to both the patient and caregiver.
Once we become truly dementia-aware, then can we best tackle the challenges of dementia with a new perspective and set of expectations. There is joy to be discovered despite the towering tasks of caring for someone with dementia. That’s what my approach is all about. I help others find the victories that can be harvested through the proper management of each symptom.