Memory loss and cognitive decline are natural and expected parts of the aging process. However, in some cases, cognitive decline and memory loss become so severe and debilitating that a person can become a danger to themselves and the people around them.
Memory loss in middle-aged adults is more common than you think.
You may have seen stories in the news about an elderly person gone missing and heard the pleas from families to aid in the search for their loved one. In some of these cases, the aging adult simply wandered out of their home and became lost, or was out running errands and forgot where they were or how to return home. These are extreme cases of cognitive decline, but they are rarely the first signs that manifest.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, but early detection and medications can help slow its progression. Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease are diagnosed and treated by a doctor, however, even without a diagnosis memory loss can be dangerous to a senior. It’s important to be able to identify signs of memory loss in your aging loved one and to know whether serious action should be taken to protect them.
Forgetting the name of an old neighbor, teacher, or mailman is normal for aging adults, as is retelling the same stories over and over again. Forgetting the names or faces of relatives and friends seen on a regular basis or ‘living in the past’ is not considered normal. Has your aging loved one become suspicious of familiar and well-loved family and friends? Do they have trouble placing names with faces? Do they call you or other family members by the names of people who have died or are no longer apart of their lives? Sometimes seniors with severe cognitive impairment ‘see’ or ‘hear’ people in their home and will talk about them as if they are real.
Another sign of memory loss is when a senior forgets where they are or where they live. They may wander around their neighborhood, the store, or the parking lot in a confused daze. This is why memory care units or wings have locked doors with alarms alerting the staff when a resident has breached the safety of their assigned area. Seniors may also get into a car accident while driving because they are confused as to where they are or where they should be going. They may talk as if they are living in another decade, recalling the events and people as if it is the present time. It’s important to be compassionate and patient when someone is in this state of mind because to them it’s their reality.
This is perhaps the most common sign that cognitive decline has begun to reach a point where intervention is necessary. It can be tricky to identify it unless you are a spouse or child living with the aging adult because you may not be aware of all their habits and responsibilities.
- Have you noticed expired or rotten food in the fridge or pantry?
- How about unopened mail or unpaid bills piling up?
- Does the elderly adult smell of body odor or urine?
- Do they look unkempt, are they wearing the same clothes repeatedly, or are their clothes soiled?
- Have they missed taking medications?
- Have they consistently missed doctor’s appointments, social events, or other calendar items?
- Are they consistently overspending at the store or not buying items they need?
These are all signs that there is an underlying issue and typically that issue is memory loss. Oftentimes seniors are aware that something is not right and so they try to hide the symptoms by making excuses or covering up their symptoms. It’s important to have honest and open communication with your aging loved one and their doctor because early detection of dementia or Alzheimer’s can greatly reduce the symptoms and provide a greater quality of life.
Coping with memory loss is never easy, but it can become easier with the right knowledge and tools at your disposal. For some great tips on how to deal with difficult dementia behaviors click here.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused by your aging loved one’s symptoms or behavior you may want to reach out to a senior care coordinator. They have experience and knowledge that can help you decide which step to take next, and they can also provide you with a free assessment of your situation to give further direction.