Is this some sort of dementia?
June 5, 2021 7:14 AM   Subscribe

Family friend, age 65, exhibiting strange behavior. Could it indicate the onset of some sort of dementia?

I very occasionally visit a long-time family friend. I am wondering about his mental health. Here is what is going on:

Lately, his conversation topics almost exclusively consist of long (and I mean long) negative rants - and he rants about the same things over and over.

I had dinner at his house recently, and he was extremely hyperactive. For example, he spoke very rapidly, ate twice as fast as I did, and the minute I finished my meal, he grabbed my plate and rushed to the kitchen to wash the dishes. It was zoom-zoom the whole time. This isn't typical behavior for him.

He had been talking about getting a new recliner, and so I pointed to his recliner and asked, "Is that a new recliner?" He said that he thought so, but he wasn't sure. He then tipped the recliner forward, looked at something on the bottom of it, and said, "Yes, I guess it is new." I said, "I remember that you had wanted to get a new recliner because your other one was broken." He asked, "What was broken about it?" I said, "The footrest wouldn't stay up."

He told me he was outside sitting in his hot tub and he saw ten rows of ten military airplanes (yes, 100) fly overhead. He said, "I think something is brewing in this country." Could this even be possible? Would a fleet of 100 military aircraft be flying anywhere? We do have a joint military base 150 miles from here.

Not long ago, he took all of his money out of his savings account and put it in his safe at home, because he no longer trusts banks. He now has tens of thousands of dollars stored in his home safe.

He told me he carries a concealed weapon to use against gang members. We do have some gang activity in our city, but he lives in a safe area that is nowhere near any gang activity.

I know you are not a doctor, but I am wondering if you have had any encounters with friends/relatives who have exhibited this type of behavior, and what it might indicate.
posted by SageTrail to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
These all stand out as unusual and concerning behaviors. Does he have another close friend or family member you can compare notes with?
posted by latkes at 7:23 AM on June 5 [19 favorites]

Yes, behavior changes like these are cause for concern, and they remind me of my grandma before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The way it manifested with her is that she suddenly became very racist. This longtime Oprah viewer cancelled her cable because cable was putting too many black people on her TV. She would rant about it, and it was absolutely bewildering. Within a year she had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
posted by TrialByMedia at 7:28 AM on June 5 [11 favorites]

I'm no expert, but as anecdata this combination of paranoia, hallucinations and manic behavior reminds me of someone I know who was ultimately diagnosed with Delusional Disorder. Whatever the cause, I hope your friend can accept help from you and/or other concerned people in his circle.
posted by carmicha at 7:35 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

As I have had recent reason to learn, the symptoms you describe are also potentially a sign of Parkinsonism or incipient Parkinson’s disease. Neurologist, stat.
posted by spitbull at 7:40 AM on June 5 [7 favorites]

Definitely concerning. Definitely not enough info to diagnose precisely -- there's lots of things this could be and a lot of them mean that this person should not be living on their own. Please, please get this person to the right doctors.
posted by humbug at 7:47 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

That definitely sounds like something is up, and he should go to a doctor. It could be dementia, but it could be something else. When I noticed some cognitive changes in my mother, I worried that it was dementia, but it turned out actually to be a brain tumor. (Cheerful, I know!) Does he perceive anything to be wrong? Would he be amenable to discussing this with a doctor? Does he have a spouse or children who can get involved? If so, I would talk this over with them and see if you can come up with a list of concerning behavior that can help a doctor start figuring out what's going on.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:22 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]

The forgetting they bought a new recliner is definitely worrisome.

That said, what’s more worrisome is that everything else points me in the direction of seeing someone who has descended into conspiratorial thinking of various flavors. Internet-driven? Talk-radio-driven? Friend-driven? All of the above? Regardless, this rabbit hole almost always includes a big dollop of paranoia.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]

This all sounds concerning. Just wanted to say that there were several military planes that flew out in formation for Memorial Day where I live. It was probably 10 planes? They were very low flying and VERY loud, so perhaps he saw something like that and extrapolated from it. But overall what you describe is concerning.
posted by Toddles at 8:50 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]

Whether it's some form of dementia or another mental health issue, this sounds pretty concerning.

You may get pushback trying to approach him on it; if you aren't able to get anywhere with him directly (I suspect you won't), and there isn't another friend or relative who might have more weight to act, this is the point where getting some sort of mental health/social support services involved is pretty much a necessity.

Your description suggests he has a decent chance of eventually becoming a danger to himself or others, and while that day might be five years from now, it could be next week.
posted by stormyteal at 8:58 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]

If this is a dramatic change in behavior compared to weeks, months, or even several years ago, and it sounds like it is, that is all the qualifying event you need to treat this as an emergency. A dramatic escalation in paranoia is a big deal, things like forgetting the chair is very serious.

You don't need to know what the problem is before you do anything. It could be literally anything from classic dementia to untreated diabetes or an infection or a tumor or failing kidney function - lots of things that go wrong can present first as stuff we might classify as purely "mental health" or "memory loss" but is actually the result of slow poisoning from an inappropriately-functioning biological process. Any of these failing systems do very very frequently initially present as paranoia (fear of the "government", boogeymen like "gangs", and often absolutely filter-less racism are common) and "forgetfulness". From there it's a race between him getting himself in serious trouble legally/criminally, being preyed on by someone who recognizes there's money to be gotten at, and seriously harming himself in the home.

Of course, your hurdle will be getting him seen by somebody. If you have some kind of senior services department in your area, you could ask them for advice but I strongly recommend you first find out about their confidentiality policy and whether they initiate any police wellness checks when consulted about a senior in potential crisis, because that's bad for a lot of reasons, including being (so coincidentally!!) robbed within days of some kind of report being filed.

You could try seeing him again and asking after his health specifically, and try talking to him about how you're worried and would he let you help him see a doctor? I have a number of friends stuck at this point with their single/widowed fathers right now; it is very difficult to make this happen without flat-out lying. You'll have to decide how far you're willing to go on that, and if you're willing to say that he asked you to do this.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on June 5 [12 favorites]

This could also be drug-induced if he's taking some new medication or forgetting to take some new medication or is somehow taking medications that interact badly with each other- which could include over-the-counter stuff that he has not mentioned to his doctor. The recliner incident could be used to convince him that maybe he needs to see his doctor, it's more straightforward than the odd behaviors.

Does he have family or close friends nearby that he sees more often than he sees you? If so, voice your concerns to them.
posted by mareli at 10:44 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]

Yes, I would be concerned about this. I would recommend seeing if there is an Alzheimer’s Association chapter near your friend and giving them a call. They should know what resources are available locally for situations like yours. I know that some communities are experimenting with training public employees like emergency medical workers to do wellness checks on elders living alone. Perhaps something like that is available in your friend’s town.
posted by eirias at 5:48 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]

This reminds of how some longtime substance abusers in my life began to markedly decline in late middle/old age after decades of seeming basically functional.

But regardless of cause, it does sound like some sort of problem.
posted by kapers at 6:14 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]

It definitely sounds like a problem. It could be dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's' or any number of things. It could also be something more easily treatable, like a side effect of medication or a Urinary Tract Infection.

If you're close enough to him or to his family, I'd recommend getting him to a doctor ASAP.
posted by dancing_angel at 2:28 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]

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