What to Do If You Notice Signs of Dementia in Your Family Member?

This year, the holidays brought many families together again who hadn’t seen each other for weeks, months, or even years due to the pandemic.

While celebrating with one another, some might have noticed changes in their elderly family members, including parents or grandparents, that may be normal aging or cause for concern. If you observed things like frequent short-term memory loss, confusion or disorientation, mood swings or struggling with conversation, it is important to seek help. We have put together a four-step approach to help get you started on your caregiving journey, and as always, the Caregiver Support Initiative is here for you at every step.

The first step is to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. An early diagnosis is key to begin planning for the future as soon as possible. A visit to the doctor can also rule out other treatable medical conditions that can be mistaken for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease. Thyroid problems, medication side effects, brain tumors, depression and vitamin B12 deficiency can all cause dementia, but unlike Alzheimer’s Disease, they are potentially reversible.

Next, you will want to put legal plans in place, such as a will, power of attorney, and Medicaid coverage, before the disease progresses.  It may be beneficial to hire an elder law attorney for assistance. You can get referrals from agencies such as the Caregiver Support Initiative, the Alzheimer’s Association, AARP, and your local bar association. It is advantageous to have these conversations early so that the caregiver and care receiver can both communicate their wants and needs. This also relieves the caregiver of having to guess when making difficult decisions for their care receiver when they no longer can. It may be helpful to organize legal, financial and medical documents in a binder to have important information all in one place.

Once you have a diagnosis and legal planning is underway, you may want to think about signing your care receiver up for Project Lifesaver, a service that the Caregiver Support Initiative offers to adults with any form of memory loss to provide a timely, life-saving response and reduce potential injury if they should wander. Care receivers enrolled in the program wear a small personal transmitter that emits an individualized tracking signal that local authorities can use to find them if they are lost. By keeping the care receiver safe and giving the caregiver peace of mind, Project Lifesaver is a win-win.

Lastly, it’s crucial to plan for the emotional side of caregiving. It can be a depressing, isolating and exhausting job. It can also be fulfilling to know you are giving your all to maintain dignity and quality of life for someone else. A caregiver support group can help you navigate these feelings. It is a great opportunity to share strategies, information and resources, empathize with others who understand your situation firsthand, laugh, cry and find renewed strength and inspiration. It is also a reminder that you are not alone.

If you have more questions about early signs of dementia, planning for the future or our free services offered in Clinton, Essex, Franklin Hamilton, Warren and Washington Counties, call the Caregiver Support Initiative at 1-800-388-0199.