Watching our parents or loved one’s age can be difficult at times, especially if you begin to notice changes in their memory. It’s normal to misplace our keys or forget an occasional appointment, especially as we age.
However, while memory loss is not uncommon, long-term memory loss is not a normal part of aging. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. While it can be tempting to ignore the warning signs, it’s important to address them early on to ensure your loved one receives the care and support they need. The first step in addressing memory loss in a loved one is to make sure you’re familiar with the warning signs.
Warning Signs of Memory Loss
Memory problems can be a sign of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, or other forms of dementia. Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects memory, thinking, and can interfere with daily life. While memory loss can be attributed to several different diseases, warning signs are often similar. Here are a few of the most common:
• Short-term memory changes. Those who are experiencing memory problems will often have trouble with their short-term memory. You might notice your loved one can tell a story from years ago but are unable to tell you what activities they did earlier in the week or even that same day.
• Mood changes. Depression is a common warning sign, especially for those who are in the early stages of dementia. Personality changes, such as shifting from being shy to outgoing, are also common.
• Difficulty with normal tasks. Those who are experiencing memory problems often have difficulty with completing daily tasks like managing a checkbook, paying bills on time, and following directions with multiple steps.
• Repetition. One of the most recognized signs of memory loss is repetition. You might notice a loved one repeating daily tasks, asking questions repeatedly, or collecting items obsessively.
Common Misconceptions of Memory Loss
Recognizing memory problems in your loved one can provoke a lot of emotions. If you are noticing early signs of dementia, it’s natural to be tempted to ignore them. However, addressing memory loss early can help slow the progression of the disease. Here are a few common ways we ignore that a person we love might have memory problems.
Attributing warning signs to age
The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with age. Beginning at age 65, the risk doubles every five years. While these statistics are serious, many loved ones will attribute these warning signs as a normal part of aging. Even if you are unsure, it’s a good idea to have your loved one visit the doctor, especially if they are exhibiting warning signs often.
Blaming a lack of sleep and stress
It’s tempting to blame the confusion and forgetfulness that can often accompany Alzheimer’s and memory loss with a lack of sleep. However, changes in sleep patterns are also linked to the disease.
Associating forgetfulness with age
The term “senior moment,” is often used when an older adult might forget something obvious, such as someone’s name or even missing an appointment. The term can normalize these moments of forgetfulness when in reality they merit medical attention.
Linking behavioral changes to sadness
Depression is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. However, depression alone can also cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s such as changes in attention span and concentration.
Taking the Next Steps
If you’re noticing any of the warning signs in a loved one, or find yourself denying what you see, it’s important to take the next steps. According to Psychology Today, here are a few things you can do to help your loved one get the care and support they need.
• Write down what you notice. Each time your loved one exhibits a warning sign or changes in behavior, write it down in detail. Describe the situation, what is different in your loved one, and the date at which the situation occurred. Some examples include, “My mom was unable to follow instructions for a game we play weekly” or “My dad usually pays the bills without an issue, but last month he forgot to pay the electric bill.”
• Pay attention to what else is happening. Are these events coinciding with other life changes such as a fall, injury, or change in medication? As you write down your observations, also note what else is happening in their lives. If there is a stressful family situation, such as a death in the family, make sure to take note of it.
• Share your concerns. The next step, and the most difficult for many family members, is to start a conversation with your loved one. While it can be hard to know how your loved one will react, it’s essential to share your concerns.
When you feel ready to have a conversation with your loved one, it’s important to prepare what you will say and how you will say it. The Alzheimer’s Association has developed a series of tips to help guide you through the conversation. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you prepare
Who should have the conversation?
Think about which family members should be present during the conversation. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that it’s best to share concerns one-on-one directly with the person so they don’t feel threatened. Of course, it is wise to think about what’s best for your loved one and what they would prefer.
What is the best time and place to have the conversation?
It’s tempting to delay the conversation but don’t. It is best to address it as soon as possible. Set a day, time, and location and stick to it.
What will you say?
Starting the conversation might feel awkward, so to prepare, think about what you might say. Here are a few suggestions:
• I’ve noticed a change in you and I’m concerned. Have you noticed it?
• How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself.
• I’ve noticed you (forgot to turn off the stove) and it worried me. Has anything else like that happened?
Navigating Memory Loss at Maplewood Senior Living
While it is imperative to support your loved one during this time, it is also essential to take care of yourself. Experiencing grief and a sense of loss while noticing these changes in your loved one is normal. You might consider finding professional assistance or asking a close group of friends or family to give you additional support.
Our priority at our Maplewood Senior Living Communities is to provide excellent care for all residents and to support their families during difficult times. If you would like to hear about our specialized offerings, please contact us.
For additional information, download our Complimentary Guide To Navigating A Dementia Diagnosis.