Stages of Dementia and the Skills of Listening

Stages of Dementia

It can be hard to know what signs and symptoms to look for in an aging parent or loved one. And for many of us, even when we do notice something of concern, it can be hard to differentiate between normal signs of aging and signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Years ago, as my mom was going through the early stage of dementia, the changes that I noticed were so subtle that neither my dad nor I recognized them as serious. We both just chalked it up to Mom getting older. Since I visited with her every day, I was blind to the symptoms. Not to mention, back in the 80’s and 90’s, Alzheimer’s disease was not nearly as well known as it is today. So very few knew what to look for.

Thankfully, awareness has progressed and now there are lists of signs to help you recognize if your loved one has dementia and to tell you about the different stages.

Family members and friends are told the signs to look for, but what about those who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Knowing the signs to look for and recognizing the stages of dementia are often based on visual clues. And for some caregivers, due to work, financial constraints and family responsibilities, going home to check on your parents or loved ones is often not an option.

When you care from a distance, visual signs are often not possible. But this doesn’t diminish other tools that you can use to recognize whether your loved one is safe on their own or not. 

What we can’t see with our eyes, we can hear with our ears. 

As a caregiver, never underestimate the power of listening. You know your loved one better than anyone else and can learn a lot about what is or is not going on, simply by asking the right questions and knowing what to listen for.

For those of you who maintain phone contact – know that learning what to listen for is a skill that can be developed. Whether you live near or far, phone conversations can provide you with some of the information you’ll need to determine if and when your loved one needs more help. 

Here are some tips for loved ones living far away screening for signs of dementia:

  • Keep a log of your phone calls by date and time. By jotting down notes, you can look back and see any progression of behavior or things that stand out over time. It’s difficult to remember every little thing as time passes, let your notes be your guide.
  • Listen for difficulty getting out words or finishing sentences. Has their pattern of speech changed? Are they having difficulty finding words to complete sentences or thoughts?
  • Ask them about their day/evening and listen to the things they tell to you. Did they misplace an item or forget an appointment? Did they forget how to do something? Are they spending more time at home than they used to?
  • Listen for repetition. Repetition can be saying the same story or concerns over again. But it can also be not varying meals and outings.  
  • Do they sound fearful, depressed – or on the other side of the spectrum –overly happy and upbeat? Changes in mood or personality for many can be one of the first signs of dementia.  
  • Are they aware of the date or time of year? If they seem to be disoriented when it comes to what time of year it is – maybe they don’t remember a holiday coming up, or a birthday – this can be a clear cut sign. This can also be a red flag for missing medications, meals, or appointments. 

It can be difficult to screen for dementia in person, but even more so if you live far away from the person you are concerned about. But if you know what to listen for, screening for dementia over the phone is possible, and will be your most valuable tool for success.

As stated in Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide, “As a caregiver, you are unique, the person that you are caring for is unique. Know that no two persons with dementia will ever be the same. Each journey will be different.” 


Every month, we’re giving away a free copy of “Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias: The Caregiver’s Complete Survival Guide” to a new member of our community. Enter to win a copy by entering your email in the “Subscribe” form on this page. 

Photo courtesy of Ky

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