Negative Behaviors That May Be Early Signs of Dementia

by Jacqueline Marcell Patient Expert

I have to stop listening to "Dr. Nora" while I am driving, as I am going to get in an accident from my jaw hitting the steering wheel. I rarely tune in, but I swear, every time I do-some adult daughter is calling in about being at her wit's end with her "challenging" elderly mother. I wait... and sure enough, she starts unknowingly describing early signs of Alzheimer's (or some type of dementia), which are intermittently exaggerating and distorting her mother's life-long negative behavior patterns.

As I yell at the radio, "It's the beginning of dementia", Dr. Nora asks the caller why she would possibly subject herself to such negative behavior? The caller stutters and stumbles and finally says, "Well, I can't just not see her-she's my mother!"

Dr. Nora's continues to advise the daughter that she doesn't have to put up with such nasty behaviors and that she should simply stay away. She always adds something to the effect of, "Well, what do you expect? You and your family have condoned those behaviors for so many years-you've taught your mother she can get her way by acting that way."

Yes, all that is true, but when life-long negative behaviors become "over-the-top" and more exaggerated than ever before, it may also be the beginning of some type of dementia. Families never "get" this early enough and should be alerted by professionals, so they know to seek help immediately.

Yes, I have sent my book, Elder Rage, and emailed trying to get Dr. Nora educated about the subtleties of the beginning of dementia-but no luck so far. I always cringe though, wondering how many multitudes of people are being empowered to just walk away instead of understanding the importance of seeking early evaluation and possible treatment of dementia for their elder. By slowing it down with medication, full time and nursing home care may be avoided.

As I always say in my lectures: "The Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's all boil down to one thing: If your loved one does something that strikes you as illogical and irrational-it is! You don't need to have a doctorate degree to know something is wrong, but you do need the right doctor who can diagnose and treat it properly."

If any of this rings true for you, please study these warning signs and alert your friends and family to this post-so everyone in your circle understands that engraved behaviors that intermittently start to become somewhat exaggerated-may be much more than old age.

TEN WARNING SIGNS OF ALZHEIMER'S (Reprinted with permission of the Alzheimer's Association)

1. Memory loss that affects day-to-day function

It's normal to occasionally forget appointments, colleagues' names or a friend's phone number and remember them later. A person with Alzheimer's disease may forget things more often and not remember them later, especially things that have happened more recently.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Busy people can be so distracted from time to time that they may leave the carrots on the stove and only remember to serve them at the end of a meal. A person with Alzheimer's disease may have trouble with tasks that have been familiar to them all their lives, such as preparing a meal.

3. Problems with language

Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes, but a person with Alzheimer's disease may forget simple words or substitute words, making her sentences difficult to understand.

4. Disorientation of time and place

It's normal to forget the day of the week or your destination - for a moment. But a person with Alzheimer's disease can become lost on their own street, not knowing how they got there or how to get home.

5. Poor or decreased judgment

People may sometimes put off going to a doctor if they have an infection, but eventually seek medical attention. A person with Alzheimer's disease may have decreased judgment, for example not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing heavy clothing on a hot day.

6. Problems with abstract thinking

From time to time, people may have difficulty with tasks that require abstract thinking, such as balancing a checkbook. Someone with Alzheimer's disease may have significant difficulties with such tasks, for example not recognizing what the numbers in the checkbook mean.

7. Misplacing things

Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or keys. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in inappropriate places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

8. Changes in mood and behavior

Everyone becomes sad or moody from time to time. Someone with Alzheimer's disease can exhibit varied mood swings - from calm to tears to anger - for no apparent reason.

9. Changes in personality

People's personalities can change somewhat with age. But a person with Alzheimer's disease can become confused, suspicious or withdrawn. Changes may also include apathy, fearfulness or acting out of character.

10. Loss of initiative

It's normal to tire of housework, business activities or social obligations, but most people regain their initiative. A person with Alzheimer's disease may become very passive, and require cues and prompting to become involved.

Jacqueline Marcell
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Jacqueline Marcell

Jacqueline wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Alzheimer's Disease.