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The Arbor Company Senior Living Blog

How to Tell If Someone with Signs of Dementia Needs Assisted Living

Jan 12, 2018 6:00:00 AM / Paul Kelley Paul Kelley

How to Tell If Someone with Signs of Dementia Needs Assisted Living

In the popular understanding of dementia, people with dementia can’t safely live alone. They don’t recognize their loved ones and might barely even know themselves. This portrayal is a simplistic picture of a complex collection of diseases. Dementia is a slow and unpredictable illness. It doesn’t always manifest as cognitive issues. For example, the key symptom of a dementia called primary progressive aphasia is a loss of the ability to speak, frontotemporal dementia might manifest as behavioral changes, and Alzheimer’s may progress slowly for many years.

Further complicating the picture is the reality that people with dementia may seem fine one moment and lost the next. Many people with dementia may not be diagnosed for years—or even at all. Sometimes, family members confuse normal aging for dementia. And occasionally, loved ones think an elder with dementia is faking or exaggerating their symptoms.

So how can you tell when an elder with dementia needs assisted living? There’s no definitive test, but the following five signs suggest that a struggling senior needs additional help.

1. A Senior Can’t Complete Basic Tasks of Daily Living

One of the clearest signs that a senior needs more help than they’re getting occurs is they can’t complete the basic tasks of daily living, such as showering, eating, using the toilet, brushing teeth, and getting dressed.

If you spend a lot of time with an aging loved one, you might already know they’re struggling with these tasks. Sometimes the signs are hidden. Clues to watch for include:

  • A dramatic change in grooming habits. A woman who once did her makeup every morning might now look disheveled.
  • A strange body odor.
  • A foul smell in the house.
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, possibly due to incontinence. Alternatively, your loved one might not go to the bathroom at all.
  • Very bad breath, missing teeth, or signs of tooth decay.
  • Appearing overwhelmed by daily activities.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Being unable to cook or shop for groceries.

Learn how to find the right dementia care option for your loved one's needs.  Download theComparing Dementia Care & Living Options guide.

2. A Senior Makes Dangerous Decisions or Shouldn’t Be Alone

Ultimately, the goal of assisted living is to keep your loved one safe. Dementia robs seniors of critical thinking skills and makes it difficult for them to remember to lock the doors and turn off the stove. When the disease progresses, their physical safety can be in jeopardy. Some warning signs include:

  • Frequent wandering. Your loved one gets lost, doesn’t answer their phone, or seems confused about where they are.
  • Bad short-term memory. Your loved one might forget to turn off the stove or the faucet, or neglect to lock the doors.
  • Not understanding how household objects function. Does your loved one know how to call for help on the phone, or what to do if the smoke detector goes off? If not, a minor emergency could turn into a tragedy.
  • Poor judgment. Would your loved one invite a stranger into their home or give away all of their money? If so, they need extra support.
  • Dangerous driving. Some seniors continue driving even when they shouldn’t. Others continue driving even when they’ve been told not to or lost their license. If your loved one gets into accidents or their car shows signs of damage, it’s time to worry.
  • Dangerous or unusual behavior. Some seniors begin showing signs of aggression as dementia progresses. Others may lose their inhibitions and engage in sexually inappropriate behavior, shoplifting, or other behaviors that can put them in danger.

3. A Senior Is Hurting Emotionally

Caregivers sometimes worry that seniors who transition to assisted living will feel “locked away” or isolated. For most seniors, assisted living offers significantly more companionship and freedom than they previously had. Your loved one will have access to caregivers and friends, to classes and chances to learn and socialize.

By the time most seniors move to assisted living, they are very isolated. They can't drive. They may be confused or frightened. They may be angry with loved ones and uncertain about the future. If the senior you love is depressed or suffering emotionally, it may be time to make a change. That’s doubly true if you can’t provide them with regular outings, plenty of socialization, and lots of reassurance.

4. A Senior Is at Risk of Being Taken Advantage Of

As a person with dementia’s cognitive capacities decline, their vulnerability to abuse and scams increases. This is doubly true if they are managing their own finances or if someone who lacks financial literacy has taken over their bank accounts.

Many family members delay the transition to assisted living because they worry that a senior will be less happy. Some even cite concerns about abuse in assisted living. The reality is that a senior with dementia is much more vulnerable to abuse when they don’t get the care assisted living can offer. Some warning signs that a senior is at risk of abuse include:

  • Falling for financial scams.
  • Not knowing how to pay their bills.
  • Making serious mistakes paying bills.
  • Signing documents without reading or understanding them.
  • Allowing problematic people—such as a drug-addicted child—into the home.
  • Poor critical thinking skills. For instance, a senior might reject the assistance of a responsible caregiver in favor of a much-beloved but often delinquent family member.

Caregivers Are Overwhelmed or Neglectful

Most seniors say they would prefer to receive care from a loved one. The reality is that caregiving is an exhausting burden. If you’re a caregiver, your own life might suffer. And it’s highly unlikely you can truly fulfill all of your duties without feeling depressed or resentful. Some caregivers begin neglecting their duties because they just can’t juggle it all.

If you can’t be everything to the senior you love, don’t feel guilty. Assisted living can step in and fill the gaps, allowing you to enjoy your relationship again. That’s the beauty of quality care. It gives seniors a chance at a good life—even when dementia robs them of their memories or their thinking skills. Your loved one can feel happy again. You can enjoy your time together again. Let us show you how.

memory care assisted living checklist

Topics: Dementia, Senior Aging & Health

Paul Kelley

Paul Kelley

Paul Kelley is the Vice President of Operations for The Arbor Company.

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