This is not any type of “official” list or a list from a doctor. It’s a list based on our own personal experiences of things we’ve seen with three of our parents who have gone through these issues. If you happen to see one or more of these signs in your loved one, it’s best to make an appointment to see the doctor.
Repeating – This is one of the first things we started to notice. Your loved one will tell the same story multiple times in a row, each time telling the story like it is the first time the listener is hearing it. It’s most disturbing when the story is told over and over, within the same 10 minute conversation and they have no idea they’ve said it 2 or 3 times before.
Paranoia – Your loved one is thinking that others are talking about them, thinking that others are taking over their lives or making important desicions for them. Or, they think that people are stealing from them. My father-in-law was really bad and thought people were “stealing his stuff.” He even went so far as to go to a neighbor’s house to ask him why he stole his saw (the neighbor hadn’t taken it or even borrowed it). Quite embarrassing.
Living in the Past – Your loved one starts believing that family or friends that have passed away are still with us or thinking that grown children are adolescents or children. They may start talking about past events like they are recent events. My father-in-law went through a period of thinking my husband was a teenager. He would reference dopey things my husband did as a kid as if he had done them recently…not even realizing he had done those things over 20 or 30 years ago!
Not Being Able to Grasp New Concepts – Your loved one may not be able to understand any form of technology, follow directions, etc. My father was not great with technology, I mean, his VCR would blink “12:00″ all day long. But it’s more alarming when you show them something new and there’s no way they can grasp it, even it’s something you’d think is simple like opening a folding chair or using a white board.
Losing Skills – Your loved one may no longer being able to do things that used to be second nature. When they start to lose skills they previously had, especially skills they had for years or since childhood, this is an issue. When we had an incident where my father-in-law did not know how to use tools, that was a huge warning sign, especially since he’d been a contractor and plumber for decades!
Confusion – Things like not knowing how to get home from the store, not knowing how to maneuver in a store, etc. (Regarding driving, see my previous post about elderly drivers.) Or, basic tasks they’ve always done are newly confusing – such as being unable to read a calendar, unable to make change, unable to write a check, etc. We once saw my mother-in-law trying to pour boiling water for tea into a plastic (not heat safe) cup instead of a mug. Around the same time, she was found washing dishes with Windex instead of using dish soap. When confronted about the Windex, she didn’t understand that putting harsh chemical on a dish she’d eat from was dangerous.
Ornery Behavior/Personality Changes – If your loved one starts acting in a way he or she never has, particularly if he or she seems more cranky or ornery, that may be a sign of a bigger cognitive issue. We saw my father-in-law do this in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Previously, he was never someone who was cranky or mean, but he started to be really mean, spiteful and downright cruel sometimes. Since this was very atypical behavior for him, so we knew this was a sign of something more serious.
Hygiene Issues – We saw this happen with all of our elders. When you have relatives that always cared about their appearance and you see it decline, it’s a good sign there may be cognitive issue. When nails are dirty and untrimmed, hair is greasy or unkempt and clothes are dirty or unwashed, this should be cause for concern. (Side note: depression can also lead to “not caring” enough to bathe or dress propertly, so be sure you check for signs of depression as well.)
Loss of Interest in Hobbies/Apathy – This is something we’ve seen often in our elderly loved ones. When he or she has a hobby or interest that almost abruptly goes away, this can often be a warning sign. Also, if you see a previously active or social person just want to “sit” all day or do nothing, that can be scary. Or, they might not care about anything anymore. It’s almost like they’ve lost their purpose in life or reason to get up in my morning.
Far Away Look – That “far away” look is something we’ve seen often with our parents, not just from the folks on the Walking Dead. When you first see your loved one almost look right through you, it can be a bit unsettling. Then, sometimes, they just look in a direction, but they’re not really looking at anything. It’s more than just daydreaming, it’s almost like they’re thinking of nothing. This is a sign worth mentioning to your loved one’s doctor.