When and how might we—or friends or family—know the time has come to get additional support if we should develop dementia? At what point would moving have been less traumatic for Traci? For Quinn? There are no easy answers, but some pondering and research have led me to these behavioral warning flags. I can communicate this list to my partner and friends in advance of dementia striking any one of us, and agree with them that repeated patterns of these behaviors will shout “Get Help!”:
- Time disorientation, specifically regularly missing appointments, arriving on the wrong day or time routinely. My mother’s hairdresser dropped her as a client after too many missed appointments. A friend frequently misses lunch appointments. These are signals.
- Space disorientation, being unable to find the way home, or to the restroom in a building they should know well. Arriving at a familiar intersection and having no idea which way to turn. Every one of the dementia victims I know suffers from this.
- Short-term memory issues such as repeating the same question over and over, or constantly searching for lost dish/glasses/shoes. We all do this sometimes, but it is the frequency and persistence of this behavior which is the signal.
- Problems with any of the Adult Daily Living functions (dressing, toileting, medication, eating). 20.7% of adults aged 85 or older needed help with ADLs.
If any of those became routine behaviors in me or my spouse, I would seek a consultation with a physician and/or neurologist for diagnosis. Some dementia is the result of medications; geriatricians have a list of those. Some dementia symptoms are induced by anxiety. A physician or neurologist might seek additional assessment as part of the diagnosis. Our community’s annual physical (and our entry physical exam) includes some mini-mental status questions. Data and diagnosis in hand, it would be time for decisions. Be at home as long as possible? Hire caregivers for at least part of the time? Or utilize that continuing care contract ASAP?
In my case, I am aware that I am impatient, irritated and exhausted with the behaviors associated with dementia. I feel strongly that my loved ones should not be expected to endure such stress daily if I were the one to fall victim to dementia. I believe I would also be happier settling in earlier to a Health Center or other institutional environment, when I might still be able to understand and remember the love and care that my family exhibited in ensuring my care and theirs. It sounds easy, and maybe it will be, but if I should be the victim of that dastardly dementia, I would want care which helps me remain safe and engaged with life, and able to be as independent as the disease would permit—in a Health Center setting. This is why we live in a Continuing Care community, an economic luxury for which we are very, very grateful.