By NANCY STEPHANI

Dementia is a growing reality for many people in our society. Early diagnosis and treatment by a physician is key to slowing the memory loss, but early signs can be confusing and stressful, which can worsen the memory issues.

In a recent article on the Daniel Amen website, some early warning signs were identified that we might want to pay attention to.

While it is normal to occasionally forget a name or the right word, people with dementia may use inappropriate words or not understand what is spoken to them.

People with dementia may forget how to turn off a burner on the stove, how to close the garage door or even how to perform simple tasks like squeezing out toothpaste to brush their teeth or tying their shoes.

Dementia can cause a person to get lost while driving to familiar places like the grocery store or bank. They may not understand simple signs that most of us read automatically while driving, like “stop” or the symbol for “curve ahead.”

They may not know the day, time, year or where they are or understand the situation. For instance, they may have gone to church for years but they stand up at the wrong time, or they may go to the grocery store when they intended to go to the dentist.

People with early dementia may not get their hair cut or styled unless reminded to and may not be well groomed, even for holidays or special family events. They frequently neglect their hygiene and it can become an argument over taking a shower. (They may reasonably claim to be afraid of falling in the shower or bath.)

All of us occasionally lose an item like our car keys or cellphone. People with early signs of dementia may put them in unusual places like the freezer or oven. They may experience the symptom of paranoia and accuse others of stealing the item, or they may believe others are breaking into their home and taking or moving them. They may sometimes leave a stove burner on, endangering themselves and anyone else who may be in the building. Many of us occasionally miss an appointment, but people with dementia may forget why they are at the appointment even when someone assists them in getting there.

As dementia progresses, a person may very well have difficulty with paying bills, doing taxes and understanding more complex activities. There may be personality changes, such as increased mood swings.

Dementia may cause a person to lose interest in daily activities. This can also be sign of depression, which is also frequent in dementia.

It is important to talk to a medical professional, as many medical issues can mask themselves with dementia-like symptoms. Mental health professionals can help a person with early dementia adjust to the diagnosis as well as family members dealing with the grief over the gradual emotional loss of a loved one.

Stephani, coordinator of emergency services at Century Health, is a licensed independent social worker supervisor. She is on professional staff at Ohio State University at Lima. If you have a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay 45839.

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