As we get older, doesn’t it seem like our memory is one of the first things to go? Even at middle age, some of us may have trouble remembering why we walked into a particular room, having a specific conversation, or where we placed the cell phone. Rest assured that these are typical occurrences, most likely caused by stress, distraction, or simply dealing with a ‘full plate’.
But for our aging friends and family, memory loss can be the first sign of a deeper problem. When memory loss begins to interfere with daily life, possibly putting someone at risk or in danger, it’s time to consult a health professional to discuss the possibility of dementia coming on. While not everyone will experience dementia in the same way, gerontologists agree that some combination of the following symptoms typically signifies an underlying problem.
Struggling to find the right word – Verbal communication involves a complex web of mental abilities. If part of the web is damaged, command of vocabulary and maintaining a train of thought may be affected. Be proactive if someone you know is no longer able to use common words or phrases, describes objects instead of identifying them by their proper names, or has become less conversational.
Mood swings – Stemming from frustration at their loss of ability, being frightened by their situation, or an inability to control emotions, drastic changes in mood are extremely common. Dementia may lower a person’s inhibitions when it comes to expressing emotions, which may explain crying jags or outbursts, especially if never exhibited before.
Apathy – New studies are showing that a general lack of interest, manifested by giving up a favorite activity, a decrease in energy, or preferring to stay home, has been linked with a decrease in brain volume, typical in dementia patients.
Difficulty doing normal tasks – You may begin to notice your loved one becoming frustrated by rote activities such as getting dressed, brewing coffee, or making a phone call.
Confusion – Especially alarming to friends and family, simple social situations such as following a conversation or the plot of a movie, or recognizing familiar faces and names may become difficult.
Failing sense of direction – We’ve all seen on the local news the Alzheimer’s patient who suddenly found himself unable to make it home from the grocery store or quietly walked out the door and ultimately become disoriented and lost. As symptoms progress, it is extremely important to keep loved ones secure in a safe and familiar environment.
Lack of judgment – Affected seniors may become unable to process dangerous or emergency situations, leading them to make irresponsible, poor decisions or fail to call for help.
If you have recently observed concerning behavior and curious about possible next steps, call Seniors First’s Information & Assistance Line. As part of an array of programs targeted to serving seniors in Placer County, Seniors First staffs the line so callers are able to ask questions, request referrals to local services and resources, and receive assistance in making sound decisions on behalf of their aging loved ones.