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Snapshots of Dementia: Show Me a Sign

Posted by on May 28, 2020 in Dementia, Uncategorized | 8 comments

“Watch carefully.” “Keep a list.” “Keep a journal.” That’s the traditional advice given to people who suspect a loved one shows signs of dementia.

Even after Tom’s surprise party and the revival of my concerns, I didn’t keep a record of his struggles. My nagging thoughts came and went. And his previous diagnosis of adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn’t help. I remember telling myself and at least one neurologist, “Maybe this is just what aging looks like in someone with ADHD.”

But a day came when I did start keeping a list. This lasted only a month or so because it became almost like the situation when someone says, “I think this milk might be spoiled. Could you check it?” I find myself unable to taste or smell anything but spoiled milk—even if it’s perfectly fresh.

When I was looking for dementia, I found all sorts of problems. And it hurt to think I might find symptoms and signs where there were none.

So I stopped keeping my list and even deleted it. But I do still have notes here and there along with memories, which at this point are more intact than not.

Dementia is a diagnosable condition made up of many small elements. I noticed the following signs in what I now call the “early days,” when I still wondered whether something was wrong:

Distractibility/lack of focus: My husband seemed to move away from a task and on to another more quickly than in the past. He left more things unfinished and undone. I knew this was true at home, but eventually, I realized it was also affecting his job.

Hesitancy in speech: Tom’s speech became more and more halting. I realized how much he struggled for words one night when, during a choir rehearsal, he mentioned a previous mission trip to what he (after a long pause) called the “left side of Canada.” As people laughed, I cringed—and added this to my mental list.

Forgetfulness or inattentiveness: Our dear next-door neighbor messaged me more than once to ask if we knew our garage door was open. No, we didn’t, but yes, Tom had forgotten to close it when he went to work. Two or three times, he left the front door of the house wide open as well. People grew accustomed to reminding him multiple times about nearly everything.

Exhaustion: He would come home from work so tired he could do nothing but sleep for a couple of hours. He would get up for a short time and then go to bed early. Normal aging, or a sign of a problem? I had no idea.

Withdrawal from social situations: Tom had always been a life-of-the-party guy who did his best to laugh and help others feel at ease. Suddenly, I often found myself the leader in conversations while he sat quietly. He would still joke with people, but this radical change bothered me. A lot.

These are some, not all, of the changes that helped me move from wondering to urging him to see a neurologist. Even though we eventually discovered he has frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), not Alzheimer’s, this list helped me make that decision.

We all forget things occasionally. We all make mistakes. But when the issues became more than occasional, I could no longer ignore them. Again, I hoped and prayed I was wrong in thinking Tom had a problem.

I was far more right than I knew.

If you have a friend or loved one with dementia, what signs or symptoms did you notice first? What moved you to seek medical treatment? Your story matters.


  1. I am hanging on your words as I begin thinking along these lines with Robert. He has so many health issues this has been on the back burner so to speak. I can relate , far to easily, to the signs you are discussing. We are working with a neurologist now ..its quite the challenge.

    • I’m so sorry, and I do understand about the other health issues. Many times, those can speed up the progress of dementia. I will be praying!

  2. Thanks…this will help other identify early signs of dementia. know this is hard for you. Continued prayers

    • Thanks so much. I do pray this is helpful!

  3. Marti, Thanks for baring your soul. I know the pain and have been comforted by our Lord. I have had an aunt with problems and she would clean out the refrigerator of all fat products before my uncle could claim his lunch. This was her first sign. My mother-in-law would go to the garage first thing every morning and open the car door and smell for perfume — claiming her husband left the bed every night and went out dancing. First signs can differ, but they are all painful.

    • You are right that they can differ. I don’t even know that I can point to ONE “first sign.” I do have significant moments like these and will share some of them soon! Hugs and love.

  4. I noticed my Mom stopped doing activities she had always done. She was an avid crossword puzzler. I had given her the NY Times wall sized puzzle which she folded and worked on every night until it was finished. Now she couldn’t complete even a simple puzzle. She couldn’t remember the words. She stopped reading her bible ev e ry night before bed, something she had done all her life. At first I thought these behaviors were because she was aging. She was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer. My Dad had past away a few years before so I thought this might be why she lost interest, it wasn’t.

    • Awww, I can picture your sweet mom as I read these words. Not being able to or not being interested in what were previously favorite activities is a very common dementia sign. We see this in Tom as well. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it? Blessings and love.

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