In my private practice, I evaluate and treat patients with a variety of conditions ranging from ADHD to depression to dementia, and I find that much of the worry and concern comes prior to having a diagnosis. Frequently, having a diagnosis gives relief because then a treatment plan can be established and goals can be put into place to manage whatever the difficulty is. Today we’re addressing some of the questions that arise on a caregiver’s journey while caring for a loved one with dementia.
In today’s post, I’m interviewing the husband caregiver whose wife has dementia. He will be sharing what signs and symptoms he initially noticed that led to them seeking medical attention.
In part 2 of this 5 part series, we discussed the most difficult aspect of the caregiver’s experience dealing with his wife’s dementia and his advice for others in the early stages: Ask Dr. B: Lessons from a Dementia Caregiver Part 2
In part 3, we discussed the importance of the caregiver joining support groups: Ask Dr. B: Lessons from a Dementia Caregiver Part 3
In part 4, we discussed the importance of the dementia patient receiving respite care as well as the caregiver and a caregiver support group to prevent burnout: Ask Dr. B: Lessons from a Dementia Caregiver Part 4
In part 5, the caregiver and I discussed the power of redirection for the dementia patient as well as the frustration of dealing with a loved one’s memory loss: Ask Dr. B: Lessons from a Dementia Caregiver Part 5
DrB: “Many people wonder how to know when to get help for someone? Or how to know if this is just normal aging versus something more serious? In your journey with a wife who has been diagnosed with dementia, what were your early warning signs that this might be something significant?”
Caregiver: “I guess there were two very early indicators that I didn’t realize were such at the time. One was a reduction in her vocabulary. When she forgot words in conversation, she began to use certain words repeatedly. One of those words was “container.” She would use it as a verb, or a noun, or an adjective, and anything could be a “container” from her friend to a bag of potatoes to a desk or a table…any time a word didn’t come to her, she used the word “container.”
“The other significant indicator was her ability to drive. For example, she had been going to the same vacation spot for over 50 years and knew the area very well, but one of the last times we were up there, she drove into town, became disoriented and subsequently lost and needed help from a state trooper to get back home.
“Another time, when we were driving home after a two day trip, we would take turns driving, but in the early stages I began to be aware that she was no longer able to follow the instructions on the road signs or even my instructions such as where to turn off the road.”
DrB: “So there was a change in functioning from what was previously characteristic of her.”
DrB: “And she was a very bright woman, who was previously quite capable!”
Caregiver: “Yes, and it should be noted that these changes were very gradual. If you asked me to pinpoint at what time I knew she had dementia, I would have a hard time pinpointing when that was. “
DrB: “We all have occasional lapses in memory, so we all forget words now and then, or all forget occasional conversations, or we might have difficulty finding a location, but you noticed a pattern of decline over time.”
Caregiver: “Yes. Initially it was a very gradual decline in her vocabulary, just a few words that she would use to replace other words. There was a long but gradual decline and then perhaps a few months with a more rapid decline, and then another long period of very gradual decline.”
DrB: “But at some point you knew things were not right.”
What’s important to take from this is that if you start noticing there has been a change in a loved one’s functioning, from a previous level of functioning, you don’t have to know if this is something significant or if what you are witnessing is just normal variation in aging. That is the time when it’s important to seek out medical attention. At that point, go to your neurologist or to a neuropsychologist, and let them be the one to make that determination. It’s not up to you to carry that responsibility or make that determination. But if there is a concern, it warrants seeking out answers.
For more information on how to help your loved one with dementia and to get additional tips, go to my website, http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)