Alzheimer’s and dementia: Spot the signs, adapt the care

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Katie didn’t think much of it when she noticed her mother-in-law repeated things now and then. As it became a more common occurrence, she started to wonder if the pattern might be a sign of something more.

“I often find Margery asking me if she’s ‘told me this story before’,” Katie explains. “At first, I figured she probably wasn’t sure which of us kids she’d shared something with. But I’m often hearing the words: ‘Stop me if I’ve told you this already.”

Subtle—but consistent—changes like this often raise alarm bells for adult sons and daughters. In Katie’s case, the trend felt like part of a bigger shift. Margery seemed to be taking notes during conversations, and leaving them by the phone for future reference.

“She’d ask my daughter something about an activity, like a dance class,” says Katie. “And then the next time we spoke she’d actually reference her notes… ‘I wrote down that you have dance on Tuesday so I can remember to ask you about it. How was your class?’”

At first, Katie wasn’t sure what to make of it. She wondered whether Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, might be taking root. Broader mental health concerns were also top of mind. Her worries weren’t unfounded. In Canada, 65 percent of those diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 are women; some 76,000 Canadians are diagnosed every year. And that can have a significant impact for family members, like Katie. One in five Canadians have experience caring for someone living with dementia. And differentiating between the ‘typical’ memory-related signs of aging and something more serious isn’t always easy.

Here in B.C., associations like the Alzheimer’s society offer a host of free, online resources to help. Katie had made use of similar checklists in the past, and dove in once again to help.

“I had similar concerns with my father-in-law a few years before. This felt different, but I addressed it the same way,” she says. “We got out the list of signs and symptoms and worked through it together. It helped ease our concerns for now.”

That ability to stay on top of possible signs and symptoms counts for a lot. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia early can help doctors propose a management plan, and track progress. Knowing what your loved one may be experiencing also enables you to provide them with the best possible care. That’s true in the familial setting, but also for more formal caregiving relationships as cognitive impairment evolves. That said, what should you keep in mind?

  • Watch for for memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities. Anyone can forget things from time to time. But a senior who begins having a hard time remembering how to perform familiar tasks, recalling words (or using them in the wrong part of a conversation), or putting things away appropriately may be experiencing a bigger change in cognitive ability.


  • Be on the look out for difficulty making sound judgement calls or thinking in the abstract.


  • Tune in to significant shifts in personality, mood, behaviour, and initiative.


Above all, remember that every year brings new hope for families navigating Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. One year ago, a new Alzheimer’s treatment was approved in the U.S.. Then, in December 2021, University of British Columbia researchers launched a study that will provide Canadians with access to a novel Alzheimer’s diagnosis test. Each of these developments marks important progress for families that know the signs to watch for, and can jump on opportunities as they arise.


If you remember just one thing…

Knowledge is power. Managing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia best begins by knowing the signs, and watching for key changes. Doing so now can help you adapt medical and caregiving needs to provide the best possible quality of life for a loved one now, and down the road.

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