Doing This in the Bathroom Could Be an Early Sign of Dementia, Doctor Warns
This change in your daily routine could be a symptom of cognitive decline.
The debilitating effects of dementia make it crucial to look for early signs of the disease. While there is currently no cure, identifying the onset of Alzheimer's and other conditions that cause cognitive decline can help people seek treatment as early as possible for the symptoms and progression of the disease.
"Dementia is a disorder that impairs an individual's ability to remember, think, or make decisions," explains Jim Dan, MD, geriatric clinical advisor and member of the Board of Directors at Senior Helpers, a national in-home senior care provider. "Dementia is not a specific disease, but rather an overall term used to describe a group of symptoms specific to memory loss and other cognitive impairments that are serious enough to interfere with an individual's ability to conduct everyday activities."
Some of the early warning signs of dementia are more well-known than others. Read on to find out about a surprising early symptom you might not be on the lookout for.
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This change in your daily routine can be a warning sign.
Increasing forgetfulness is a commonly known symptom of dementia, with people often wondering if their memory loss is age-related, due to stress, or a potential symptom of dementia. But memory loss can go on to affect healthy habits.
"[Dementia] often attacks the speech and language centers of the brain, turning everyday tasks that are otherwise seen as simple—such as bathing, dressing or eating—into difficult tasks because the person can't remember how or why to do them," explains Dan, who also cites "difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with time or place, problems with words—either speaking or writing—constantly misplacing things, withdrawal from social activities, and mood swings/behavior changes" as potential symptoms.
These familiar tasks can include regular hygiene practices, such as hair care, oral health, and bathing. "While simple forgetfulness is normal with age, the forgetting of an often-practiced routine like daily hygiene can be cause for concern, as behavior changes are one of the most common early symptoms of dementia," says Dan.
Practicing good hygiene can become challenging.
Because dementia can affect the ability to perform even the most routine activities, Dan advises that a change in daily routines can signify the onset of cognitive decline. Even the simple acts of brushing teeth, grooming, and getting dressed can be affected: "Individuals with early signs of dementia may find it challenging to dress themselves—[such as an] inability to get dressed and/or change clothes, or perhaps wearing something mismatched or inappropriate for the weather," he says. "If an individual previously was conducting a daily hygiene routine as part of their normal, everyday behavior, it's common that these familiar tasks become increasingly difficult to complete."
According to VeryWellHealth, difficulties getting dressed can include forgetting how to use zippers or buttons, putting clothing items on in reverse order, or becoming overwhelmed by clothing options and unable to choose items at all.
Why does dementia have an effect on daily habits?
Memory loss can alter the ability to perform even regular, routine activities; people may forget how to practice good hygiene, or even why they need to do so. According to the Alzheimer's Association, "As Alzheimer's progresses, the person with dementia may forget how to brush his or her teeth or forget why it's important." But there are other cognitive changes caused by dementia that can affect daily habits. For example, a change in depth perception can make bathing frightening, and people "may not perceive a need to bathe or may find it a cold, uncomfortable experience."
Dementia can cause poor judgment, and this symptom may precede even the common early sign of memory loss. The ability to make good decisions can also affect hygiene practices, such as a person deciding they don't need to bathe, or that it's safe to dress lightly during harsh weather.
Apathy, too, is a personality change that can occur at the beginning of cognitive decline. This may result in a loss of interest in one's appearance.
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Take action when you see early signs of cognitive decline.
It's important to consult a medical professional if you become aware of early signs of dementia. "Because dementia progresses quickly… symptoms often become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks," says Dan. While there's no cure for dementia, Dan explains that "activities like socialization, mental and physical exercise (i.e. playing word games that stimulate the brain's muscle memory, doing puzzles that encourage critical thinking and hand-eye coordination, or going outside for a walk) can help the mind stay active and be useful in slowing down mental deterioration."
In addition, the failure to practice healthy habits can worsen dementia. Research has shown that factors like getting enough sleep and brushing your teeth twice a day can decrease the risk of cognitive decline. "A healthy diet, regularly exercising, and controlling cardiovascular risk factors… will help lessen the burden on a patient's life course," says Dan. "Taking care of one's health will not cure the disease, but rather eliminate aggravating factors."
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