On Monday, Bakersfield Police shot and killed 73-year-old Francisco Serna, who they later learned was suffering from dementia — a tragedy that highlights the challenges of maintaining the stewardship and safety of loved ones with dementia.
“AirTalk” host Larry Mantle sat down with Dr. Laura Mosqueda, Professor of Family Medicine and Geriatrics at USC, to talk about the struggles of taking care of a family member with dementia, as well as potential warning signs of early dementia, which are especially relevant as people go home for the holidays.
“Families come home and visit a loved one, an older adult, for the holidays, they haven't seen them in maybe six months or even a year, and notice significant changes in cognition, behavior, thought process, confusion,” she said.
According to Dr. Mosqueda, people over 85 are the fastest growing population in the U.S., and nearly half of this populating has some type of dementing illness.
“I encourage people, if it's okay to do ethically, to snoop around a little bit,” Dr. Mosqueda said.
Here are four signs of dementia you can watch for if you’re concerned about an older parent or family member:
1. Financial problems
“Some of the early signs that something is going wrong are people having trouble handling their finances,” Dr. Mosqueda said.
This was the case for the mother of “AirTalk” listener Trish in Anaheim.
"I started discovering that she was writing checks to every charity donation in the world that was sending her letters in the mail,” she said.
According to Dr. Mosqueda, people with dementia are susceptible to scams, frauds and overall mishandling of finances. Pertinent questions to ask when considering a family member’s situation are: “Is check writing still okay? Are bank accounts being drained? Has the electricity been cut off at times because somebody who normally always paid their bills has stopped doing that?”
2. Trouble with transportation
“Transportation issues, getting lost in familiar environments, they [people with dementia] get from point A to point B — it should take them ten minutes — but instead, who knows where they've been in their car and they show up an hour late,” Dr. Mosqueda said.
3. Misplacing Objects
"AirTalk" listener Stacy in the Fairfax District said early signals of her father's dementia were that "... he did lose his keys, he did lose his wallet."
This forgetfulness could be a sign of something going wrong. Checking for spoiled food in the refrigerator is a good idea as well, said Dr. Marqueda. Although occasionally misplacing keys isn't necessarily abnormal.
"'Where did I put the keys' is not a sign of dementia," she said. "Or we would all be in trouble."
4. Covering for memory loss
Dr. Mosqueda said one might ask a family member, “‘These days, who’s the president-elect?’... And they’ll go, ‘Well, aren’t all those politicians crooks?’”
This response redirects the conversation, but “they’re just covering for the for the fact they actually don’t know,” she said. “You can have moderately advanced Alzheimer’s disease and do great at a cocktail party, because you can do all the superficial conversation, socially appropriate kinds of stuff.”
“AirTalk” listener in Huntington Beach said she has similar issues trying to care for her mother.
“The problem is that she covers beautifully. So she goes to the doctor and the doctor says ‘Your mom is fine.’ But when we say, ‘Listen, we need to get financial control, Mom's sending her money to some boyfriend in Canada,’ he won’t declare her incompetent fiduciarily, because he doesn’t want to take that step.
Dr. Marqueda said ultimately there is no one size fits all answer or sign and if you have concerns about an older loved one, go to the doctor.
To hear the full segment, click the blue playhead above.
Laura Mosqueda, M.D., Professor of Family Medicine and Geriatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California