When an adult child begins to notice changes in an aging parent’s mental or physical well-being, it can leave them worrying and wondering about what might be wrong. Most aren’t sure if what they are witnessing is the normal signs of advancing age or symptoms of something more serious, like Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It can be difficult to tell the difference.

Some behaviors are recognized as the classic early signs of Alzheimer’s—but there are other medical conditions that closely mimic the disease. If you find yourself unsure about your senior loved one’s health, it can help to learn more about the early symptoms of dementia, as well as other illnesses that can sometimes look like dementia.

Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, early warning signs of the disease include the following:

  • Forgetfulness that disrupts daily life
  • Misplacing things around the home
  • Difficulty maintaining a conversation
  • Confusion about the day of the week or time of day
  • Trouble concentrating and reading
  • Struggling with long-familiar tasks
  • Getting lost going to and from a familiar location
  • Mismanaging personal finances
  • Emotional outbursts or a change in disposition
  • Withdrawing from social groups, religious organizations, or favorite pastimes
  • Loss of problem-solving and planning skills
  • Forgetting personal appointments or important events
  • Forgetting to eat and unintended weight loss

If a senior you love is exhibiting more than a few of the symptoms listed above, it’s probably a good idea to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician. Keep in mind, though, that there are other health conditions that might be causing these symptoms, and many of them are reversible.

Health Conditions that Mimic Dementia

An older adult’s physician will likely conduct a physical exam and order bloodwork to rule out other potential problems, such as the following:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Infection in the body
  • Uncontrolled diabetes or blood sugar issues
  • Adverse reaction to or side effect from a medication

Most of these issues are treatable with early intervention.

If a senior’s primary care physician rules out all of the above health conditions, they may refer the older adult to a neurologist for further evaluation. Because there isn’t any one definitive test for dementia, the neurologist will likely have their own protocol for making a diagnosis. This can include ordering brain imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an MRI, or a PET scan.

Memory Care at Sunrise

Sunrise takes an individualized approach to caring for adults with dementia. We work with the physician, the senior, and family members to create a personalized care plan for each resident. It’s a process that begins before the older adult even moves in.

To learn more about navigating the journey with Alzheimer’s, we invite you to listen to Rita Altman, senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise, in this episode of The Senior Caregiver podcast.



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