How to Detect if Your Loved One is Hiding Dementia Symptoms

You’re not alone if you have a parent with memory loss. Millions are facing this reality every day. Finding out whether the memory loss is a part of aging or a cognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, can be the challenge. Because elderly persons can often try to hide cognitive diseases, it’s crucial you get testing and help for them.

Alzheimer’s and dementia are scary diseases that slowly steal a person’s identity and personality — the very traits that make them who they are as individuals. No one wants to lose themselves to this heart wrenching and brain-destroying disease, which is why denial, changing the subject, or compensating for symptoms is so common.

Five Ways the Elderly Can Hide Dementia

The signs of dementia can be subtle at first. Mom gets disoriented or has trouble recalling certain words, or Dad forgets to pay the bills. If your aging parent or loved one is showing persistent memory loss, it’s a warning you should not ignore, because it could be more than just a “senior moment.” There is even a condition called anosognosia, a lack of awareness of impairment that may affect your parent when there is damage to the part of the brain that affects the perception of one’s own illness.

Getting treatment for the problem can help slow down the disease progression and even completely treat some forms of dementia. So it’s important to understand the ways that the elderly can hide dementia symptoms.

Refusing to participate in an activity they once loved.

Refusal to do a chore, play a game that was once simple, or try something new can signify a problem. Mom or Dad may be having trouble remembering how to do activities that were once second-nature, which makes learning new information even more difficult.

Covering up problems.

Whether it’s having trouble driving or interacting with family and friends; spouses often cover their loved ones. They’ll step in and complete tasks, finish sentences or make excuses for their spouses.

Being in denial of their own cognitive impairment.

Insisting they’re fine when there’s an obvious problem often signifies denial. Excuses such as, “This is normal forgetfulness for my age,” or “I’m fine, just tired” are some signs of denial. Making excuses protects the elder in their eyes by convincing himself or herself that everything is fine so they don’t need to worry, when, in reality, they may not be fine and might need either some form of treatment or an alternative living arrangement.

Keeping it a secret for fear of being put into a home.

No one wants to give up their freedom. Seniors will go to great lengths to cover up they are going downhill so that they can remain “independent.” Some studies have indicated that people who have a high intellect and more education can cover up the signs of dementia for a longer period of time. They can even deny it to themselves longer. These people simply start at such a high level of knowledge that others don’t notice a slight slip. This isn’t, of course, always true. Many who have not had higher education are very clever and can cover up memory slips with ease. No two people are the same, so adult children should be on the lookout for signs of deterioration in their parents.

Having anosognosia.

More than denial, anosognosia is a lack of awareness of impairment — most people do not even know that they are ill — and it affects up to 81 percent of those with Alzheimer’s. Anosognosia is still difficult to define, but researchers know if results from anatomical or damage to the part of the brain that affects perception of one’s own illness.

How Does Your Elderly Parent Function?

What matters is how your aging parent functions. If they are having trouble with everyday living and responsibilities, you need to address the problems you’re noticing.

Visiting a neurologist can help sort out the behavior that is not what the family is used to seeing and rule out various causes. Dehydration, infection, medication, and stroke can all cause changes in brain function and behavior. It’s good to find out the reasons for the memory problems and learn whether they can be treated.

If there is no official diagnosis other than “early dementia” or “mild cognitive impairment,” it’s not a signal to the family that everything is OK and no one needs to plan ahead. Rather, it’s time to take a look at Mom or Dad’s future.

Get prepared today, rather than wait for a crisis. Starting a tough conversation is easier than you think.