Have you been worried about an older person’s memory or thinking skills? If so, you’ve probably found yourself wondering if this could be Alzheimer’s, or another dementia.
What to do next? If you look online or ask people, the advice is generally this: tell the doctor.
This advice isn’t wrong, but it’s incomplete. Yes, you should tell the doctor. But you’ll dramatically improve your chances of getting to the bottom of things if you come to the doctor with useful information on what you’ve observed.
In fact, research has found that interviewing family members about the presence or absence of eight particular behaviors can be just as effective, when it comes to detecting possible Alzheimer’s, as certain office-based cognitive tests.
8 Alzheimer’s Behaviors to Track
For each of these behaviors, try to make note of the following:
- Whether there’s been a decline or change compared to the way your parent used to be
- Whether this seems to be due to memory and thinking, versus physical limitations such as pain, shortness of breath or physical disabilities
- When you – or another person – first noticed problems, and what you observed
- What kinds of problems you see your parent having now
If you don’t notice a problem in any of the following eight areas, make a note of this. (E.g., “No such problem noted.”) That way you’ll know you didn’t just forget to consider that behavior.
Have you noticed:
- Signs of poor judgment? This means behaviors or situations that suggest bad decisions. Examples include worrisome spending, or not noticing a safety issue others are concerned about.
- Reduced Interest in Leisure Activities? This means being less interested and involved in one’s usual favorite hobbies and activities. You should especially pay attention if there isn’t a physical health issue interfering with doing the activity.
- Repeating Oneself? Has your parent started repeating questions or stories more than he used to?
- Difficulty Learning to Use Something New? Common examples include having trouble with a new kitchen appliance or gadget. This can be a tricky one to decide on, given that gadgets become more complicated every year. But if you’ve noticed anything, jot it down.
- Forgetting the Year or Month? Especially once one stops working, it can be easy to lose track of the date or day of the week. But if you notice your parent forgetting the year or month, make a note of this.
- Difficulty Managing Money and Finances? Common examples include having trouble paying bills on time, struggling to balance the checkbook, or otherwise having more difficulty than one used to have managing finances.
- Problems with Appointments and Commitments? If you’ve noticed that your parent is having more trouble keeping track of appointments and plans, make note of this.
- Daily Struggles with Memory or Thinking? It’s normal for older adults to take a little longer to remember things, since many brain functions do slow a bit with aging. But it seems that your parent often can’t remember things that happened, or otherwise seems to be more confused with thinking, make note of this.
For more on diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other dementias
If you’re worried that your older relative might have dementia, I recommend you learn more here:
You can also download my dementia assessment cheatsheet, which includes a handy checklist of what information to bring to the doctors.
Remember, being proactive usually leads to better results and less stress overall!