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,