Have you heard of “Grumpy Old Man” syndrome? I think the term became popular from the 1983 movie by the same name featuring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau & Ann-Margret. Or was the movie named for the syndrome? No matter – it’s what you HOPE is happening when you WORRY that your parent or loved one may have dementia or worse yet, Alzheimer’s.

To give you a better way of deciding what is going on, here are 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s. Many of these signs also apply to the over-arching disease of dementia – of which 80% is estimated to be Alzheimer’s.

Sign #1: Memory Loss that interferes with daily life.

Everyone loses something at some point – don’t panic every time you can’t find your keys or forget what you did last week.

When the memory issues become so great that they interfere with daily life – that’s something to start tracking. If you or someone you love is asking the same question or forgetting the same thing repeatedly, that could be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Sign #2: Difficulty planning or solving problems.

When familiar things become stressful and a person is often paralyzed with indecision, it could be a sign. Trouble getting to places they go often – in a car or on foot, getting frustrated when things don’t go exactly as planned because they can no longer adapt well to change… things like that should be written down so you can look at the whole picture and how things are changing over time.

Sign #3: Trouble completing familiar tasks.

Is dressing becoming a problem? Does someone who has loved to cook all their life now get confused in the kitchen? When things a person has done regularly without a second thought become hard, it could be dementia.

Sign #4: Confused about time or place.

When a person begins to become regularly confused about where they are or what time it is, they could be suffering from dementia or the beginning of Alzheimer’s. When things were getting a lot worse for my dad, he began to get confused about day and night. An Astronomy professor could no longer understand that when it is dark, it’s night time. 9 o’clock was when he thought he should be somewhere – and the light or dark outside made no difference. That is a sure sign something is wrong!

Sign #5: Changes in vision or depth perception.

As the brain deteriorates, vision is often affected. The person may not be able to verbalize it (or may want to hide it) but you might notice that they are more cautious and more worried about falling. They may bump into things more or have trouble picking things up as depth perception changes.

Sign #6: Trouble writing or saying words.

Language may be affected as well – not just remembering a word but also being able to say or write them. This can indicate changes in the part of the brain that controls speech and language.

Sign #7: Losing things and trouble retracing their steps.

We’ve all lost things – think back to the last time you couldn’t find your car keys. My guess is you started by thinking about the last time you drove and what you did when you came in the house – you begin to retrace your steps and usually (hopefully!) find your keys. You think, “I came in and oh yeah! I went and got coffee.” so you go to the kitchen and see if they are on the counter.

Someone with dementia won’t be able to think through past events as sequentially – they will just wander and be confused. They may also put things in odd places – keys in the freezer or milk in the cabinet with the plates. This happened with my dad – there were times we would be cleaning up from dinner and he’d have ice cream in his hand and ask us where it should go… at first we thought he was joking but as it happened more and more, it was a warning sign.

Sign #8: Impaired judgement.

We expect children and teens to have questionable judgement because we know their brains are still developing and they are still learning. A 5 year old may “look both ways” before crossing the street but still go even if they see a car coming… when a 60-70 year old starts walking into traffic – it’s a bad sign. Look for changes in behavior and judgement in your loved one.

Sign #9: Withdrawing from work or social activities.

Many people are very good at hiding, even from themselves, that something is wrong. They know that things are more confusing and overwhelming so they may participate less in work or social activities than they did before. While this could be a sign of depression and not dementia, it is worth looking into either way.

Sign #10: Noticeable changes in mood or personality.

This is one of the hardest things for families and friends to deal with. As a person moves into dementia and / or Alzheimer’s, their moods and personality will change. The kind mother may start lashing out at her kids in anger. A person who could talk through issues may become aggressive and combative. They may lose empathy or compassion. If you begin to feel like you don’t know your loved one anymore – it may be a sign that something is going wrong in their brain.

Making notes of these behaviors can really help a doctor make a diagnosis and the earlier you can get a diagnosis, the more likely you will be able to stall the progress with medication or learn to adapt to the changes before things get really bad.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s isn’t an easy diagnosis and it is often diagnosed after ruling other things out. If you are worried that you or a loved one has many of these signs, consult your doctor.

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– Tara Reed