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.)
Thanks for sharing this, Dr. Michelle. Good to know what we need to be mindful of with our loved ones. Your neighbor today at #threewordwednesday.
Thank you for sharing this with so many in this blogging world. I cared for my mother for 15 years who had dementia. I had much to learn. She lived 1500 miles away so my visits became more frequent because I was seeing some signs that were not her normal. It was hard. I finally had to move her to be near me.
Thanks for much for being here for us all, Dr. B.
Caring through Christ, ~ linda
We need to be educated about all this. Thank you for doing it! Blessings!
Thank you to the caregiver husband who shared part of his story! It’s good to know what early signs to look for, because I’m a firm believer that the sooner we know and can put a plan in place, the easier it is for everyone involved!
What an important discussion. I am fortunate that right no my loved ones seem to function well. I seem to have some of these characteristics myself at times, but I think it is because I have so much going on and it is normal for my age. How do you know when your own functioning or lack there of seem to indicate warning signs? My great aunt and grandmother had dementia. Is it something I need to be concerned with?
This is so helpful. I do legal work for families to either help plan for incapacity or to deal with a loved one’s legal matters if they cannot. So many of my clients are dealing with dementia in their families and getting a plan in place is so important.
Such a helpful article, thanks Dr. B. 🙂 Glad to be neighbors this week on the #RaRaLinkup
Thanks for sharing this interview. I am a caregiver to my mother. Her dementia has not progressed to the point where she repeats words or gets lost in familiar places. What I have noticed more is that she tells me the same event that happened over and over, several times, even in a short period, like 15-30 minutes later, as if she’s telling it for the first time. She also has lost things/ sometimes not realizing that she actually hid stuff somewhere in the house, after saying she thinks someone will steal the item.We did have her family physician examine and do some testing and he prescribed a treatment plan, but at this time, she refuses to follow it. She is able to function fairly well still, but there will be a time soon when we will have to make the decision for her to get help.
I have a friend who I’m wondering if she has early dementia stages? She can’t seem to remember anything. If I make plans with her to go somewhere and tell her I’ll pick her up first, I always have to email her and re-iterate the details ie; I’ll pick you up at such & such time and we’re going to such & such place. She seems to forget everything.