The publicity surrounding actor Bruce Willis and his diagnosis of dementia have put this progressive disease back into the limelight.
Willis’s family released the news that the film star is suffering from frontotemporal dementia which, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, refers to a group of disorders caused by progressive nerve cell loss in the brain’s frontal lobes (the areas behind your forehead) or its temporal lobes (the regions behind the ears).
This type of dementia leads to loss of functionality in these brain regions, causing deterioration in behavior, personality, and/or difficulty producing or comprehending language, thus impacting the actor’s ability to memorize and recite lines of dialog.
Though not all forms of dementia may be as pronounced as the one impacting Willis caregivers serving the senior population should be aware of early warning signs that a patient is undergoing a decline in cognitive ability, thus negatively impacting their ability to perform many basic functions of daily living.
In our case work with veterans for over 20 years through our VetAssist Program at Veterans Home Care, we have witnessed many instances where an individual starts to demonstrate the onset of early dementia. Some of these tell-tale signs are obvious, while others are not as apparent.
These clues may include:
- Difficulty recalling words
- Displaying poor decision-making
- Finding the TV remote in the refrigerator, or misplaced items
- Weight loss
- Reluctance to change clothes or bathe
- Fluctuations in personality
- Failing to shut off burners and cooking equipment
- Aggressive behavior toward family members
Caregivers should take note of these warning signs even if it is not obvious that the individual has dementia, and social workers should encourage the family to watch out for any of these behavioral or physical changes in their loved ones.
Initial symptoms are generally mild and may sustain, but they will eventually progress and become more severe in nature.
Once a diagnosis is established, a course of action can be undertaken for a more interventive approach, beginning with the primary care physician.
Deciphering the differences between a “senior moment” and early dementia may seem difficult, but when symptoms are analyzed properly, it can facilitate a treatment plan to reduce or slow down the loss of cognitive ability and enable the senior to live as comfortable a life as possible.
Dana Taylor is a licensed clinical social worker and a Veterans Home Care regional manager who serves Southeast Missouri from St. Louis to the bootheel. Taylor routinely meets with professionals from home care agencies, home health agencies, hospitals and veterans’ organizations as a subject matter expert on the VA Aid and Attendance Benefit. She also works directly with veterans and their families. Taylor, the daughter of a veteran who received a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, is honored to serve veterans every day.