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Forgetfulness or Dementia?

Is it forgetfulness or dementia?

It’s become common and culturally acceptable to say “I’m having senior moment,” when someone over the age of 50 has forgotten something.  The mind’s inability to recall information is a familiar sign of aging and often the source of a good-natured chuckle. However, you may be asking at what point does simple forgetfulness become a sign of something more serious, like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

Occasional lapses in memory are a normal part of the aging process and generally not a warning sign of serious mental deterioration or the onset of dementia. They may include:

·       Occasionally forgetting where frequently used items were left, such as glasses or keys.

·       Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as mixing up names.

·       Occasionally forgetting an appointment.

·       Having trouble remembering the details of a conversation or something just read.

·       Walking into a room and forgetting the reason why.

·       Becoming easily distracted.

·       Not quite being able to retrieve information “on the tip of your tongue.”

When memory loss becomes pervasive and severe enough that it disrupts work, hobbies, social activities, and family relationships, it’s time to consider that something more significant is happening with your loved one.  Some indications might be:

·       Difficulty performing simple tasks (paying bills, dressing appropriately, washing up).

·       Forgetting how to do things they’ve done many times.

·       Getting lost or disoriented even in familiar places or being unable to follow directions.

·       Words are frequently forgotten, misused, or garbled.

·       Phrases and stories are repeated in same conversation.

·       They have trouble making choices.

·       Show poor judgment or behave in socially inappropriate ways.

·       Refusal to participate in an activity they once loved.

HelpGuide.org offers a 21-question test to help measure mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The questions are intended to be answered by a spouse, close friend, or other loved one and provide some additional indicators of MCI.

Many adults experiencing cognitive impairment try to hide it from their loved ones, or a spouse might mask the challenges by compensating for an area of increasing weakness, such as dad doing all the driving because mom has forgotten where she’s going or has had too many accidents lately. Though it may be challenging to identify developing issues in a couple, careful observance can generally help penetrate their team effort to appear as if everything is okay.

Most aging adults cite fear as the driving force behind covering up any cognitive decline. However, there can be many reasons for dementia-like symptoms, http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2014/treatable-conditions-that-mimic-dementia.html such as side-effects of medications, thyroid trouble, or a vitamin deficiency. Gently speaking with a loved one and encouraging them to see their doctor or even a geriatrician, if possible, can help get a clear idea of what might be going on.

Consider writing a letter to the doctor before the appointment if your loved one is in denial or you think he or she may not fully disclose what is happening.  Although you may want to speak with the doctor directly, you’ll likely only speak with a nurse who may or may not take thorough notes about your concerns.  A letter listing explicit incidences that are concerning you and the frequency of occurrence (and dates if you know them) will share the necessary information so the physician can ask the right questions and order the right tests.

Even if the diagnosis is dementia or Alzheimer’s, there are options that can alleviate your loved one’s concerns. Prescriptions may help postpone the worst symptoms longer and, should a loved one need additional support, there are assisted living and nursing homes that focus on independence, dignity, and quality of life.

Bottom line, if you have any concerns that ‘senior moments’ are happening too often, work with your loved one to get it checked out. No matter the outcome, there are helpful alternatives to choose from.

If you have more questions or need information about assisting living facilities or nursing homes in the Phoenix metropolitan area, please call one of our advisors who would be pleased to help you free of charge.


By Cathy Chlarson, July 5, 2016

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Sean Cady

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