It's easy, but a mistake, to believe that every new physical, cognitive, or behavioral change is caused by worsening dementia. After all, Alzheimer's is a progressive disease. These changes can have many causes. Consider these three:
1. Medication side effects Be especially watchful of new symptoms whenever your loved one is prescribed a new medication or a change in dosage. What looks like a dementia decline may be a reversible effect of the new drug or changed dosage.
Bring all medications (or copies of prescriptions or labels) to appointments with every doctor or specialist you see, including notations of when they were started and why. Include drugs that were started and then stopped (again, with a note about why).
2. Delirium When mental confusion and memory loss suddenly turns worse than usual, the cause may be an underlying infection or dehydration. This unusual state of mental confusion is called delirium. People with dementia are especially vulnerable. Once the problem is identified and resolved, the symptoms usually disappear.
3. Depression People with dementia are at higher risk for depression. What looks like apathy, a dip in memory, or changes to sleep or eating patterns may not necessarily be related to dementia but to a state of depression.
Always report these symptoms to your loved one's doctor and raise the possibility of depression. Treatment (talk therapy and medication) can be effective and lift the worrisome symptoms.