When a loved one can’t remember….

Joking aside, this is not an uncommon type of exchange between someone with dementia and those who love them.

People with dementia usually have memory loss, difficulty speaking or writing coherently, and/or recognizing familiar surroundings.  These patients’ symptoms interfere with their independence and daily activities. 

Some people worry that they are developing Alzheimer’s.   In most cases, short term memory issues cause minor difficulty, and do not interfere with a person’s daily activity.   This is what separates “normal” from dementia. 

The best way to diagnose dementia, is clinically.  There are tests doctors can perform to rule out other conditions, but there is no lab or brain scan confirming dementia yet. 

Dementia can be caused by several diseases, but the most common cause is Alzheimer disease.

The biggest risk factor for dementia is age. Next, is family history; people with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer disease have a 10-30% chance of developing dementia.

In symptom progression, the first thing patients or families notice, is that the patient can’t remember recent events.  There is also confusion, concentration difficulty, the inability to find the right words for things, and getting lost in a familiar place.  Later, there is increased confusion and personality changes.  Relatives who have never been aggressive, now are.  They begin hallucinating – hearing/seeing things that only they can hear/see.  Physically, they become unable to hold urine or stool, and they need help with eating and bathing. 

Because of the symptom progression, safety becomes a major issue for family/caregivers.  The patients may not realize or accept that they are suffering from dementia, so they will continue their daily activities.  Tasks like cooking and bathing can become dangerous;  fires and burns can result.  Patients with dementia will want to continue driving.  As the disease progresses, patients become more distractable, and their reaction time will slow.  BMV is able to perform road-ready testing on any people there is concern about.  

There are medications (Aricept, Exelon, and Namenda are the most common) that can control some of the symptoms of Alzheimer disease, but there is no cure.  Even if on these medicines, the patient’s symptoms will worsen.  We treat patients to try slowing disease progression and improving the patient’s overall quality of life.


A dementia diagnosis can be overwhelming to family/caregivers, as the patients become less able to care for themselves as dementia progresses.  There are several things caregivers can do to help their loved ones.  Here is a good link.   http://www.medicinenet.com/alzheimers_disease_pictures_slideshow/article.htm


About cschaffer78

I'm a family practice physician in Evansville, IN. My practice is described as "full-spectrum" family practice, meaning I see patients "from cradle to grave". I care for men and women of all ages, I deliver babies, and even follow my patients when they are hospitalized. Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider
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