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How Do I Know If My Parent Has Dementia?

A daughter looks to her older father as he has a concerned look on his face

It used to be common to say an older adult was having a “senior moment” when they forgot a word or someone’s name. In fact, memory lapses like these can be a normal part of the aging process. But if you’re noticing that your parent is having more frequent memory lapses, you may be concerned about dementia. While it can be uncomfortable to face the possibility that your parent has dementia, an early diagnosis can help you take a proactive approach to your parent’s care, helping them live as fully as possible with their condition. Knowing the potential signs your parent has dementia can be an important first step.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe changes in cognitive function. These changes may include memory loss, and challenges with language, problem-solving and other thinking skills. As cognitive skills decline, daily life and independence may eventually be affected. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but there are other forms, as well, including vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.

Recognizing the Signs Your Parent Has Dementia

The early signs of dementia can be difficult to spot, and having the following symptoms does not necessarily mean that your parent has dementia. Other conditions, such as depression and malnutrition, or side effects from medication, can cause symptoms that may be mistaken for dementia.

If you do notice signs your parent has dementia, consulting a doctor can help you and your parent determine how best to move forward. Here’s what to watch for:

Trouble performing routine tasks.

Everyone is occasionally distracted enough to forget key steps in a routine process, for example, starting the coffee maker only to realize you forgot to put in the water. Dementia makes it difficult to remember how to accomplish familiar tasks, so your parent might forget how to make coffee or how to use the washing machine.

 Memory loss that impacts daily abilities.

Forgetting the name of the famous actor in that great movie you just watched is normal. But needing frequent reminders or memory aids about important events, forgetting recently learned information, and repeating questions may be signs of dementia.


It’s common to occasionally forget what day of the week it is or why you walked into the kitchen. For people with dementia, it can be consistently difficult to grasp the passage of time, and they can become disoriented in familiar places, such as their neighborhood or home.

Communication challenges.

Anyone can forget a word sometimes, but dementia can cause someone to frequently forget even common words or to use incorrect words, making communication challenging. Writing may become difficult too, as dementia can affect spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting.

Difficulty with abstract thinking.

We’ve all made mistakes when doing simple math, but a person with dementia may not understand what numbers are. They may find it difficult to make plans, follow a recipe, pay bills or problem-solve.

Misplacing things.

You may have to search the house for your cell phone or car keys sometimes, but people with dementia frequently misplace things, and often these items may turn up in unexpected places, like the car keys in the fruit bowl.

Mood or behavioral changes.

Everyone has changes in mood, and our behaviors tend to evolve over time; however, dementia can cause frequent inexplicable mood swings, unexplained eruptions of anger or suspicion, and sudden personality changes.

 Questionable decision-making.

Making mistakes is part of life, but dementia can affect judgment, causing people to make unsound, or even dangerous, decisions, such as wearing a coat on a hot day or stepping into a busy street without looking both ways.

Apathy and withdrawal.

We all need time alone or an occasional break from routine. But people with dementia may withdraw socially or become disinterested in favorite activities and not recover initiative and interest unless prompted.

Visual challenges.

While everyone’s eyes occasionally play tricks on them, a person with dementia may have double vision, have trouble judging distances, or distinguishing between colors, which can make it difficult to drive, read or even to set a plate or glass squarely on a table.

What Happens Next?

If doctors confirm that your parent does have dementia, it can be helpful to begin planning for the care they’ll need in the future. This can be the time to think about whether family caregivers, in-home caregivers or Memory Care would be the best option to meet your parent’s needs as their health declines. Fellowship Medical Group, specializing in geriatric care, can be a valuable resource as you navigate your parent’s care.

For many seniors with dementia, and their families, Memory Care is the ideal choice once dementia care needs have escalated. In a Memory Care neighborhood, a homelike setting and compassionate, experienced staff members ensure that residents are safe and supported. Appropriate activities and therapies provide structure and the opportunity to be engaged and purposeful.

Learn More About Memory Care at Fellowship Village

In the newly opened Memory Care neighborhood at Fellowship Village, comfortable private suites, and a personalized approach to care create a warm, safe environment. A registered nurse, certified dementia care practitioner, dietitian and rehabilitation therapists provide comprehensive care, ensuring that residents are able to focus on the activities that bring them comfort, pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. Contact us to find out more about Memory Care at Fellowship Village, or to schedule a tour.