When people think of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the first thing that often comes to mind is memory loss. While it is undoubtedly true that memory loss is a major symptom of these cognitive impairments, other symptoms can manifest with these conditions, as well.
In fact, dementia itself is a term that means a collection of symptoms, including, but not limited to, memory loss.
Memory loss or not, having a close family member exhibiting signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be an emotional experience, especially if they are showcasing symptoms that you may not have been expecting.
HarborChase Senior Living offers memory care programs throughout the United States, and we know how difficult having a family member with dementia can be. We’re sharing some signs and symptoms of dementia that go beyond memory loss in hopes that you can better understand your family member and their changing needs.
For individuals with dementia, depression is a common problem that can significantly diminish the quality of life. According to Johns Hopkins expert Andrea Nelson, R.N., 40 to 50 percent of those with dementia also experience depression, compared with just 7 percent of the general adult population.
The reason for these high instances of depression can be related to the changes in the brain chemistry as well as simply coping with the distressing diagnosis of progressive memory impairment.
Treating and managing depression in someone with dementia can be complicated, and it’s best to speak with a medical professional before moving forward with any treatment options. Prescription antidepressants can sometimes conflict with other medications for dementia, so talk with your family member’s physician about potential alternative treatments, like therapy.
Many people with dementia also experience trouble sleeping—whether it’s difficulty falling asleep at night, napping too much during the day, or experiencing other changes in the body’s sleep-wake cycle, referred to as sundowning. Experts are not certain of the reason behind these changes, but some believe that sleep disruptions can again be attributed to the physical changes happening in the brain.
Managing Sleep Issues
Like antidepressants, some prescription sleep medications can either conflict with other medications or simply be ineffective for specific issues. One of the most effective treatments for sleep issues is establishing a healthy routine complete with daily physical activity, morning rest times, and appropriate time to wind down and relax during the evenings.
Mood Swings or Personality Changes
Sometimes, individuals with dementia may experience changes in personality and behavior. Many display behavior changes like:
- Irritability, frustration, and anger
- Lack of interest or excitement in activities they used to enjoy
- Becoming suspicious or paranoid
- Delusional thinking
- Lack of judgment in both words and actions
These mood swings and behavior changes are often the most challenging symptoms for family members and caregivers to experience, as it can be distressing to see a close loved one act in a way that is so uncharacteristic of them.
These changes can also lead to dangerous situations such as wandering or physical violence. Because of this, it’s essential to learn how to cope with them.
Managing Behavior Changes
There are many resources and caregiver guides that can offer support and guidance about handling challenging situations. One of the most important things you can do is be a gentle, reassuring presence in your family member’s life. Even when you feel frustrated, acting patient, calming, and encouraging can go a long way in making your loved one feel safe and relaxed.
Another sign of dementia beyond memory loss is experiencing issues with communication. In the early stages, this could look like struggling to find the right word, asking the same questions repeatedly, or describing objects rather than calling them by name. However, as the disease progresses, individuals might experience more difficulty speaking and eventually may even become nonverbal.
Managing Communication Problems
Successfully communicating with your family member with dementia is possible with the right approach and strategies. Before speaking with them, always be sure that you are in a quiet and calm environment. Speak directly and simply, without sounding condescending, and give them time to respond and express their feelings.
Memory Care at HarborChase
Living with or caring for someone with dementia is a complex journey, especially if you were only expecting them to experience memory loss. Other symptoms associated with dementia can often leave caregivers and family members feeling exasperated and alone. Fortunately, there are resources and support available for these individuals and families.
HarborChase offers memory care neighborhoods that focus exclusively on caring for and supporting individuals and families impacted by memory impairments. Our team of associates is highly trained in managing memory loss and the other symptoms of dementia, working with families and physicians to ensure the highest quality of life for our residents.