You know that dementia is a risk for your parents, but how do you know when it’s actually starting to set in? It’s not as if they suddenly deteriorate mentally in a clear and obvious fashion. It can take a long time, people have good and bad days, and you need to understand what early warning signs to watch out for.

Remember, every case is different. While memory issues are perhaps the most common, people also struggle with language issues, communication problems, trouble reasoning and an inability to focus. Be on the lookout for changes in all of these key areas.

That said, here are a few specific warning signs to keep in mind:

1. Stumbling over words and not finding the proper ones

Your father is telling you how he had to fix his car over the weekend, something he’s done for as long as you can remember. He’s very experienced and knows the terminology well. Then he tells you that he had to go get a new saw for the job, but he pauses. He looks confused for a brief moment and then says, very deliberately, that it was a wrench he had to go get.

He may shake it off and it could be that he just misspoke. We’ve all done that, especially when distracted. But having trouble finding the right words when you should know the words is one of the first signs that something is wrong.

2. Experiencing short-term memory lapses

Your mother can tell you all about her wedding day, even though it was decades ago. She can tell you about her first job or her best friend from high school or the day you were born.

But one day, when you casually ask her what she had for breakfast, she simply can’t recall. It was just a few hours ago, but she’s not sure until she goes into the kitchen and looks at the dirty dishes.

Again, it’s easy to write this off as nothing at all, but these little memory issues may grow worse. When they do, elderly people can start to settle into the most common trends seen with serious dementia.

3. Misplacing items

Every day, your father sets his keys on the window ledge when he comes home. Then, one day, they’re not there. You find them a few hours later. They’re in the fridge.

Misplacing items may go hand-in-hand with a general sense of confusion. People start to make little mistakes more often or they start doing things that even they do not understand when asked about them later.

Moving forward

When your loved one develops dementia, there’s a lot to learn about working with their estate and planning for medical care. Make sure you know exactly what steps to take.