The Signs of Memory Loss: When to Ask for Help
As we grow older, it’s easy to become concerned about memory loss. It might take someone longer to recall the word they want in a conversation, or they may forget, for the umpteenth time, where on earth they placed those pesky reading glasses. But these are not necessarily signs of impending dementia.
Normal, age-related memory loss, while frustrating at times, is not a cause for concern. Perhaps, as one man did, you can buy multiple pairs of reading glasses for your loved one and leave them in every room where they’re likely to need them, including the kitchen. Or maybe, when someone forgets the word they want when talking with a friend, they can joke about it: “That’s what comes of being a crossword puzzle geek. I’ve used up my word retrieval allotment for the day!”
But the telltale signs of a need for intervention can surprise you if you haven’t visited your senior loved one in awhile: trash that needs to be taken out, a stack of unopened mail on the table, a slovenly appearance when your dad was always so fastidious, or clutter in a formerly well organized and tidy house.
Memory Loss Mimics
It’s also important to know the memory loss “mimics”: conditions and circumstances that may look like memory impairment, but are actually something else, which impacts cognitive function. These memory loss imposters include:
- Medication side effects or interactions
- Illness or infection (urinary tract infections can create confusion and agitation in the elderly)
- Depression or anxiety
- Vitamin B12 deficiency
- Dehydration (common in older people, because a sense of thirst decreases with age)
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Emotional stress: feeling sad, lonely, worried or bored, all of which may be more common for people in retirement or coping with loss, such as the death of a spouse, other close relative, or friend.
The good news is that most if not all of these conditions are reversible. What’s crucial is to get screened by your doctor, so you can get help if necessary.
Behavioral Changes That May Indicate Early Memory Loss
A new diagnosis, Mild Behavioral Impairment (MBI), serves as an early marker for memory loss in people who do not yet exhibit any cognitive decline.
Very early dementia can cause personality or behavioral shifts that may be overlooked by doctors and family members as an indicator of possible dementia.
An MBI checklist includes 34 questions family members and physicians can use to determine if changes in behavior have been present for more than six months, indicating a departure from long-standing behavior patterns. The questionnaire covers interest, motivation, mood, impulse control, social skills, empathy, and sensory experiences.
Sample questions include:
- Does the person lack curiosity in topics that would usually have attracted her/his interest?
- Has your loved one become sad, or do they appear to be in low spirits? Does she/he have episodes of tearfulness?
- Has the person become tense, developed an inability to relax, or exhibit symptoms of panic?
- Have they become more easily frustrated or impatient? Does she/he have trouble coping with delays, or waiting for events, or for their turn?
- Has the person started talking openly about very personal or private matters not usually discussed in public?
- Has the person developed beliefs that they are in danger, or that others are planning to harm them or steal their belongings?
While some of these signs are classic symptoms of developing dementia, they can also be the result of one or more of the memory loss imposters listed above, which is why a thorough evaluation by a medical professional trained in cognitive health is essential.
Signs It May Be Time for Assisted Living or Memory Care
Your senior loved one may still be managing their activities of daily living (ADL) without any behavioral red flags, but perhaps you’ve noticed some of the other concerning signs mentioned above: the bills have begun to pile up, or your loved one seems unkempt, or has stopped socializing.
These changes could signal the early stages of memory loss — or they might indicate a memory loss mimic and precursor, such as long-term dehydration or depression. Social isolation and disconnection pose major health risks for older adults, especially those who live alone.
It’s also important to monitor chronic health conditions that a senior may have managed more easily when they were younger. If your mother’s symptoms of congestive heart failure were mild in her 70s, this may no longer be true in her 80s. Or if Uncle Bill was always able to keep his diabetes in check and give himself insulin injections, now the arthritis in his hands may make this form of self-care much more challenging.
AARP reports that “four out of five older adults suffer from at least one chronic condition,” in part due to longer life expectancy and improvements in health care for acute illnesses, which elevates the probability of developing a chronic disease later on.
In short: if your senior loved one is:
- Isolated and lonely
- Having difficulty with basic tasks such as laundry, meal preparation, paying bills
- Dealing with a chronic condition such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or COPD
- Losing weight (either because food shopping and cooking has become too difficult, or because they have little appetite — which may signify an underlying health problem)
- Neglecting the home (dishes piling up, dusty surfaces, boxes or newspapers in piles by the door)
- Falling frequently
- Wandering around outside, seeming confused
…it’s probably time to get help.
Memory Care at The Kensington Redondo Beach
At The Kensington Redondo Beach, we provide exceptional memory care for your loved one. Since Alzheimer’s and dementia affect each person differently, we customize care to emphasize self-sufficiency as much as possible, striving to ensure that each resident has the ability to live as independently as their circumstances allow.
To support this process, we offer onsite rehabilitation services through HealthPRO Heritage, aimed at fostering senior independence. You have the peace of mind and confidence in knowing your loved one is incapable, professional hands at all times.
The care we provide also extends to clinical services and an onsite physician’s office open during business hours, a full-time Registered Nurse who coordinates comprehensive nursing and medical care for each resident, and a staff of licensed nurses who provide medication administration 24 hours a day.
Come visit us soon, and let us show you how The Kensington Redondo Beach may be the ideal next step for your loved one now.