Noticing Memory Loss in Loved Ones

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?

You can access the entire tip sheet developed by the Alzheimer’s Association here.

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. 

Coping With the Loss of a Parent From Long-Term Memory Loss

Learn techniques for coping with the loss of a parent from long-term memory loss.

As your parents age, it’s not uncommon for them to experience forgetfulness, like momentarily misplacing keys or having trouble remembering the date of their next hair appointment. However, some older adults might experience a more severe type of memory loss, which is not a normal part of aging. In fact, nearly 10 to 20 percent of older adults aged 65 and older have been diagnosed with some kind of mild cognitive impairment, while 10 percent are diagnosed with long-term memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s. While experiencing longer memory recall can be a normal part of aging, those who suffer from long-term memory loss often lose the ability to recall memories completely.

Signs and Symptoms of Long-Term Memory Loss

The most obvious warning sign of long-term memory loss is when a senior is unable to recall memories from childhood or early adult years. For example, if your loved one is unable to remember where they grew up or the name of their high school or college, it’s important to tell a healthcare provider as soon as you’re able. In addition, here are a few common signs of long-term memory loss to look out for:
• Mixing up words or experiencing difficulty in word recall or describing situations.
• Getting confused or disoriented in highly frequented and familiar places, such as the grocery store or a relative’s house.
• Taking a much longer time to complete basic daily tasks like bathing, cooking, or paying the bills.
• Drastic and sudden changes in behavior and mood. This can often look like agitation, anger, and irritability.

What to Expect After a Long-Term Memory Loss Diagnosis

It’s difficult to watch our parents age, especially when they’ve been diagnosed with a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s. However, it can help reduce stress and agitation when we know what we can expect and how to better care for our parents and ourselves. Here are a few challenges you might face as your parent experiences memory loss.

Daily Challenges– As long-term memory loss progresses, completing daily tasks can become more difficult. This means eating, dressing, and grooming on their own might become challenging and eventually, they might require assistance. If your parent drives, it’s important to monitor their cognitive decline with their doctor and find the right time to discuss other means of getting around.

Safety Risks– Many adults who experience long-term memory loss will also become wander risks. It’s important to make sure support systems, like regular calls and check-ins, are put in place just in case this happens to your parent. In addition, some home appliances can also become dangerous. Forgetting to turn kitchen appliances off, forgetting how to use utensils, or losing balance are not uncommon challenges.

Changes in Communication– As speech delays and word recall worsen, communicating with your parent might become difficult. You might notice your parent struggling to recall vocabulary, repeating himself or herself often, using illogical sentences, or speaking less frequently.

Emotional Challenges– Many older adults are aware of their cognitive decline, especially at the beginning of diagnosis. This can come with a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when they have to be reminded of certain memories, words, or facts.

How to Care for a Parent with Long-Term Memory Loss

Witnessing a parent suffer from long-term memory loss can be difficult for the whole family, especially for adult children. Knowing how to care for your parent might become a new challenge after a long-term memory loss diagnosis. Here are some things to consider as you decide what kind of care will be the most helpful for your parent.

Memory care communities

As the disease progresses, your parent might ultimately benefit from 24-hour, long-term care. Memory care communities are designed to provide support and care for older adults suffering from memory-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Memory care is often available as a separate unit in continuing care retirement communities, like Maplewood.

Establishing a new routine

Your parent’s daily life will change as their cognitive function continues to decline. It’s important to establish a regular routine to help decrease confusion and disorientation, while also avoiding too much stimulation and variety. This might mean choosing one or two regular activities for each day, such as crafting or a walk.

Ask for help

Caring for a parent with long-term memory loss can seem like a daunting task. However, it’s important to take inventory of your resources and use them when necessary. Ask for help, consider hiring a caretaker, or see what resources are available in your community.

Coping with Loss of a Parent or Loved One

Many adult children of parents suffering from long-term memory loss experience grief even before the death of their parent. As the disease progresses, it’s normal for adult children to grieve the loss of the parent they knew for their entire lives. Many family members have to learn how to relate to and communicate with their loved one in new ways. Here are a few tips to consider as you continue to nurture a new relationship with your parent.

Go with the flow– Long-term memory loss can often affect a person’s mood, making each day slightly unpredictable. It’s important to let go of plans and expectations and simply go with the flow. Know that just because you’ve made plans, it might not go exactly how you imagined.

Set boundaries– Long-term memory loss can affect an entire family, not just the person with the diagnosis. If you are a family member or an adult child, it’s important to take care of yourself by setting boundaries. For example, if your parent becomes agitated during your visit, it’s okay to leave and reschedule for a different time.

Rethink your responses– As the disease progresses, you might be tempted to encourage your parent to remember something from their past. Or, you might feel upset if they can’t remember your name or who you are. In these moments, it’s best to take a breath and think about how you want to respond, even when in difficult situations.

Finding Support with Long-Term Memory Loss at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how difficult coping with the loss of a parent from long-term memory loss can be. That’s why our communities offer high-quality memory care specifically designed to support both the resident and their family members. If you’re interested in learning more about our memory care offerings, please contact us. We’d be happy to give you a tour of our community and discuss your needs.