Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

Dear Donna:

I’ve been caregiving for my parents for several years now. They still live in their own home and I visit multiple times each week. Lately, I’ve noticed some changes in my dad.

He’ll be 84 in April, so I understand he’s getting older. But I’m concerned there might be something wrong. He is very forgetful and seems less interested in hobbies and friends than usual. My dad’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at about the same age.

How can I tell the difference between normal aging and the early signs of Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia?


Cindy in Saline, MI

Does My Senior Loved One Have Early Signs of Dementia?

Dear Cindy:

Like you, family members often aren’t sure if changes in a senior loved one are a normal part of aging or an early sign of something more serious. This is especially true when adult children notice some of the red flags commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease, such as forgetfulness or getting lost.

While memory loss is a classic sign of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, there are other health concerns that closely resemble the disease. It may be helpful to learn more about the early symptoms of dementia as well as medical conditions that mimic Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some of the early warning signs of the disease are:

  • Being unable to hold a conversation
  • Having trouble concentrating, especially for reading or writing
  • Misplacing belongings around the home
  • Losing track of time and what day it is
  • Struggling to complete familiar tasks
  • Gaining or losing weight unintentionally
  • Getting lost going to and from familiar places
  • Making frequent mistakes with personal finances
  • Experiencing a change in personality or disposition
  • Losing problem-solving or planning skills
  • Forgetting to attend personal appointments or important events

While the symptoms outlined above might be the result of Alzheimer’s disease or a similar form of dementia, they could be caused by something else.

Health Issues That Present Like Alzheimer’s Disease

If you continue to see a pattern of changes in your dad, document them and schedule an appointment with his physician. His doctor will likely want to conduct a physical exam and order blood work to rule out other health conditions that have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease, such as:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Infection (especially bladder infection)
  • Medication side effects
  • Interaction between medications
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Fortunately, some of these medical issues are treatable with proper interventions.

If your dad’s physician rules out all of the conditions above, the next step may be to refer him to a neurologist for more testing. Because there isn’t one definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease, the neurologist will have their own protocols for making a diagnosis. It may include a variety of testing, a CT scan, an MRI, a PET scan, or even a lumbar puncture.

I hope this information is useful to you, Cindy. If you have questions about dementia or dementia care at an assisted living community, I encourage you to call a Heritage memory care community near you! One of our experienced team members will be happy to help.

Kind regards,


Tips for Helping a Loved One Who Is an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Tips for Helping a Loved One Who Is an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Dear Donna:

My mom has been caring for her older sister who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s almost 3 years ago. My aunt’s disease makes this a very challenging role for my 78-year-old mother. She’s been living mostly with her sister for the past year while my husband and I take care of my mom’s house.

While my aunt has adult children of her own, they seem to be in denial about how much care she needs and how difficult it is just to keep her safe. Worries about wandering, a new behavior for my aunt, keep my mom from getting a good night’s rest. It’s rare for my cousins to help with anything, even the upkeep and maintenance around her house.

I often ask my mom what I can do to help, but she just tells me she’s doing okay. I know that’s not the case. The physical and emotional toll it’s taking on her is tough to watch. It’s time for me to intervene, get her some help, and possibly have a frank discussion with my cousins about helping their mom.

Do you have any tips for me on how to proceed? My mom really needs some support.


Jayme in Grand Haven, MI

Caring for an Alzheimer’s Caregiver

Dear Jayme:

Alzheimer’s is a disease that impacts the entire family. Unfortunately, you’ve discovered just how difficult it can be. I’m sure it’s tough for you to watch your aunt’s health decline, as well as your mom’s. This disease is referred to as the “long good-bye” for families because of how it slowly robs an adult of their ability to care for themselves.

I do have a few ideas that I hope you find useful:

  • Utilize technology: Since you mentioned your aunt has begun to wander, I think it’s important to address this issue immediately. There are forms of technology that help manage wandering. It can help keep your aunt safe and allow your mom to sleep again. If the house doesn’t have a home security system that sounds an alarm if a door or window is opened, have one installed if you can. That will give your mom some peace of mind. In addition, there are a variety of GPS tracking devices you can take advantage of. From watches to pendants, “GPS Tech Products for Adults with Alzheimer’s” might help you choose a device that allows you to quickly locate your aunt should she wander from home.
  • Provide healthy meals: Poor nutrition is common among people who have Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. You can help prevent that by providing simple, healthy meals. Stock the freezer with options your mom can pull out and heat up as needed. Another suggestion is to set up a Meal Train that allows friends and family to sign up to drop off food. You’ll probably find people in your life who’ve wanted to help, but haven’t been sure how to do so. This platform is free and easy to use.
  • Explore respite services: A type of care you and your mom might not be familiar with is respite. This short-term stay at Heritage Senior Communities is designed to give loved ones a break. The senior stays with us for a few days or weeks so a family caregiver can rest or attend to personal business. Respite guests receive the same type of support as our long-term residents, such as nutritious meals, daily activities, medication reminders, and assistance with personal care. You could help your mom by exploring local assisted living communities that offer respite to figure out which one might be a good fit.
  • Encourage a family meeting: It sounds like it may be time to organize a family conference. Ask a friend to stay with your aunt so you and your mom can meet with your cousins in another setting. Create an agenda for the meeting to share ahead of time, along with a list of tasks that your aunt needs assistance with. Give some concrete examples of how your cousins can assist their mom. Some families find it helpful to have a neutral party mediate. It might be their pastor or priest or even a paid geriatric care manager.

I hope this information is useful, Jayme! Please call a nearby Heritage community if you have any questions or if you would like to tour a memory care program on your aunt’s behalf.

Kind regards,


How Alzheimer’s Support Groups Help Families Navigate a Loved One’s Disease

How Alzheimer’s Support Groups Help Families Navigate a Loved One’s Disease

When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, family members often pitch in to help with their care. It can be a rewarding experience. Whether it is a spouse, parent, or grandparent, providing support for a loved one helps you feel as if you are making a difference.

But caregiving can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. The unique challenges caused by the disease can leave family caregivers fatigued and worn out. It’s fairly common for loved ones to begin experiencing health issues of their own as a result.

Added to that is the emotional journey Alzheimer’s takes families on. Dementia experts often call it “the long good-bye.” It’s a fitting description of a disease that slowly robs a person of their health, independence, and memory.

The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Struggle

The demands of caring for an adult with Alzheimer’s are unique. Whether it’s worries about wandering or issues related to memory, loved ones face a variety of challenges. It can lead to feelings of uncertainty and loneliness.

Families may get embarrassed about behaviors they aren’t aware are common when a person has Alzheimer’s, such as angry outbursts in public or inappropriate comments. While friends may sympathize, they likely can’t understand and relate unless they’ve been through it.

The result is that between 40 and 70 percent of family caregivers find themselves battling depression. One way to better cope with the rollercoaster of emotions many caregivers experience is connecting with peers. Joining a caregiver support group allows you to do just that.

Benefits of Joining a Caregiver Support Group

Support groups give caregivers a judgement-free place to share guilt, fears, and frustrations. It can also be a forum for asking questions and obtaining suggestions from people who’ve faced similar challenges. You can join a support group that meets in person, such as one hosted by a specialized dementia care community or senior center, or an online group.

Some caregivers prefer an in-person meeting because of the face-to-face interaction it offers. It can be a meaningful way to connect with caregiving peers. Others are more comfortable with the anonymity of an online support group or forum. The 24/7 accessibility makes it easier for busy caregivers to participate. Caregivers can post their questions or challenges in chat forums or on message boards any time of day or night and get advice.

Here are a few online caregiver support groups to explore:

  • ALZConnected: Created by the Alzheimer’s Association, this forum gives dementia caregivers access to helpful information and resources. They also host message boards and chat rooms dedicated to specific topics related to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
  • Family Caregiver Alliance: This organization is for all types of caregivers. Through this website, people can connect with groups that support everything from cancer patients to struggling spouses.
  • com: On this site, you will find resources and forums on a variety of topics of interest to caregivers. They range from where to buy adult briefs at the best price to how to plan for a loved one’s move to senior living.

Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage

If you are caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, exploring the options for assistance in your local area is important. For those who live in Michigan, Heritage Senior Communities may be of interest. We invite you to schedule a visit and personal tour of a specialized dementia care program at a location near you!

What Can I Do to Keep My Dad Hydrated When He Won’t Drink Water

What Can I Do to Keep My Dad Hydrated When He Won’t Drink Water

Dear Donna:

My 76-year-old father moved in with my family earlier this spring. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just over a year ago and isn’t safe living alone any longer. I’m slowly learning how to work around the changes the disease has caused and to improve his health and quality of life.

I’ve come up with some activities that allow him to feel productive despite his Alzheimer’s, such as helping me around the house and in the garden. When he was living alone, he skipped a lot of meals and lost a considerable amount of weight. While I’ve found ways to encourage him to eat, I’m still struggling to get him to drink water.

Dad’s doctor told me he was dehydrated during his last appointment and that I need to encourage him to drink often throughout the day. I think the underlying issue is my dad seems to be afraid of water. Does that happen with Alzheimer’s? My husband helps him with his showers and said it’s becoming increasingly difficult.

Do you have any advice for us?


Kristie in Sutton’s Bay, MI

Water, Hydration, and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dear Kristie:

What a great observation! It is fairly common for a person with Alzheimer’s to develop a fear of water. Water-related tasks, such as filling a glass of water or showering, can result in anxiety and agitation. Just the sound of water running can cause fear. But it’s obviously very important that your dad stays hydrated, which can be even more difficult during the summer.

Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful:

  • Be mindful when you fill his water glass: If your dad has developed a phobia about water, it might help to fill his water glass when he isn’t within hearing range. Add lemon, cucumber, or berries to the glass for a bit of a distraction. Using a dark-colored glass might also be helpful in disguising the water.
  • Provide frequent reminders: Since people with memory loss may forget to drink water, prompting them to drink throughout the day might help. Don’t wait for your dad to say he is thirsty. Just tell him it’s time for a drink. It might help if you drink water while encouraging him to do so.
  • Serve foods that hydrate: Also remember that many fruits and vegetables have a high water content. This makes it easier for adults with Alzheimer’s to increase hydration. Leafy greens, melon, berries, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, and cucumber are just a few. Soup and broth are other good choices.
  • Review his medications: Some medications have a diuretic effect that can increase the risk for dehydration. Talk with your dad’s pharmacist to determine if any of his prescriptions or over-the-counter medications might be an issue. If you find one that is, ask his primary care doctor for advice on how much fluid he should be taking in to compensate for it. There might even be another medication that can be substituted.

I hope a few of these tips are helpful to you, Kristie! Best wishes to you and your dad.

Kind regards,


Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

If someone you love has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, our Specialized Dementia Care program might be a solution. From person-centered care to guided social interactions, the program is designed to allow people with dementia to live their best quality of life. Call the closest Heritage community on this list to learn more!

Pets and Alzheimer’s: What to Know before Adopting a Dog for a Senior

Pets and Alzheimer’s: What to Know before Adopting a Dog for a Senior

Pets are the heart of many families. Their unconditional love and companionship boosts the spirit while helping people live more purposeful days. For older adults, a pet can fill a void left behind when adult children are grown and gone or following the death of a spouse.

Having a furry friend to talk to throughout the day and to snuggle up on the couch with in the evening can combat loneliness. For adults with Alzheimer’s, the benefits are substantial. Pets help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that are unfortunately common in those with most forms of dementia.

Pets and Seniors: A Happy, Healthy Partnership

A study conducted at the University of Missouri revealed that seniors who own dogs enjoy a better quality of life. The stronger the bond between the older adult and their four-legged friend, the greater the benefits. Researchers say this is because people who feel a strong emotional attachment to their pet are more inclined to take good care of them. That provides a sense of purpose, which is sometimes difficult to find, especially for those with memory impairment.

Seniors with pets also tend to be more active, including people who have dementia. Those who have dogs and cats are more likely to get up and move. That helps with weight management, stamina, and core strength. It’s a combination that might aid in fall prevention, a risk for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Research shows the very act of petting an animal can lower blood pressure. The repetitive nature of stroking an animal’s fur can be very soothing. If you are helping a loved one find a pet as a companion, here are a few things to consider.

Adopting a Pet Later in Life

  • Budget: The first thing to think about before adopting a pet is the senior’s financial situation. Some breeds of cats and dogs are known for having health conditions that cause higher vet bills. Grooming expenses for long-haired dogs or cats can also leave a dent in the budget.
  • Space: Also think about the space a pet might require. For example, a small dog can make a few laps around the living room on a snowy day to work off excess energy. By contrast, a large dog will still need to go for a walk outside no matter the weather. Also take into account whether the long-range plan for a loved one with dementia might include moving to a memory care community. You’ll want to learn more about the potential communities’ size restrictions for pets.
  • Fall risk: As Alzheimer’s progresses, an older adult’s peripheral vision might be damaged. That means being mindful of the fall hazard a cat or dog might create. A medium-sized dog might be better than a small one that can get underfoot or a large one that might knock the person off their feet.
  • Time: Finally, think about the time commitment. While your loved one might be able to assist in caring for the pet now, the chores may one day fall on you. You will also likely be more involved in caring for your family member when that time comes. Consider who may be able to pitch in.

One last idea is to find out if any local organizations, such as 4 Paws for Ability, train service dogs to support adults with Alzheimer’s. They teach dogs how to assist with everyday tasks and to redirect potentially unsafe behaviors.

Dementia Care at Heritage

Heritage Senior Communities offers specialized dementia care at a variety of locations throughout Michigan. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a visit. One of our experienced team members can answer questions and take you on a private tour!

Recognizing the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s in a Spouse

Recognizing the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s in a Spouse

We all misplace or forget things from time to time. And some people just aren’t great at remembering names, even though they recognize faces. It’s typically not anything to worry about. When memory loss begins to impact daily life, however, it might be something more serious. Spouses are often the first to recognize the small signs that something isn’t right with their partner.

Memory loss that impairs a person’s ability to carry on a conversation or stick to their daily routine may indicate an infection, a vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, or some form of dementia. While there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

How Common Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s accounts for as many as 80% of all cases of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in this country have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050.

While many people know one of the classic signs of Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness, other red flags aren’t as well known. If you are concerned a spouse might be in the early stages of the disease, review this list of symptoms.

Recognizing Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Memory loss: This is the most commonly recognized sign of Alzheimer’s. An adult with the disease may initially have trouble recalling the information or names they’ve most recently learned. It could be a new neighbor’s name or the date of their hair appointment. A spouse might find themselves repeatedly answering the same questions as a result.
  • Difficulty communicating: Another change that often occurs in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s is communication problems. A loss of verbal or written communication skills are two examples. Other communication struggles include calling objects by the wrong name and difficulty maintaining a conversation.
  • Making mistakes with money: This is a common, but frequently missed, red flag. A person with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s may neglect to pay some bills while paying others several times. They are also more likely to fall victim to a financial scam or make purchases for expensive items they don’t need.
  • Change in disposition: If an always happy and kind senior has become ill-tempered or overly suspicious, he or she likely needs further evaluation. While it might be caused by a different struggle, a change in disposition can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
  • Avoiding people: When an older adult first begins to suspect something is wrong, they may not want to admit it. Some even try to hide it. Embarrassment or the fear of being “discovered” can cause them to avoid friends and loved ones. They may stop going to religious services or even skip family celebrations.
  • Getting lost: Drivers who have Alzheimer’s disease often become lost going to or coming from familiar destinations. It’s one reason physicians suggest people with the disease avoid driving. If a spouse is taking longer to run errands or returns flustered, you might want to have a gentle discussion about it.

Accepting that a spouse may have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can be difficult. It’s one reason families frequently delay talking about it. While the problem may be caused by another medical condition that mimics Alzheimer’s, such as a urinary tract infection, it’s important to have these concerns evaluated by a physician.

Heritage Memory Care Communities

Heritage is proud to be a leader in dementia care for seniors in Michigan and Indiana. From person-centered care to thoughtfully planned meals, our Specialized Dementia Care Communities are designed to support independence while also keeping residents safe. Call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a private tour!