“Sweetie, we need to go to the grocery store to buy candy for the trick or treaters tomorrow. Can we do that now?” an aging father asks his adult child on October 30. “Dad, I already brought the candy. It is right over there in the CVS bag,” the daughter replies. “Oh right, I remember now.” Conversations like these can leave adult children, especially those who live far from home, wondering, “is dad okay when I’m not around?” Mixtures of guilt and fear pull at the heart but unfamiliarity with the differences between normal aging, memory loss, and early stages of dementia are difficult for non-experts to assess. That is the subject of today’s blog. While it is important to recognize from the outset that only licensed medical professionals can diagnose dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there are several things you can be on the lookout for the next time you visit an aging parent or family member.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) separates memory loss symptoms into three categories: normal aging, signs of mild cognitive impairment, and signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Experiencing some forgetfulness or needing to reach for words that used to come quickly is a normal part of aging for many people and shouldn’t be of too much concern.
Some normal memory symptoms of aging according to the NIA:
- Making a bad decision every once in awhile
- Missing a monthly payment
- Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later
- Sometimes forgetting which word to use
- Losing things from time to time
In the most basic sense, the NIA defines memory loss associated with normal aging as occasional memory problems that don’t interfere with daily life.
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
While not rising to the level of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the NIA defines mild cognitive impairment as people who are experiencing “more memory or other thinking problems than other people their age.” The NIA reminds us that while mild cognitive impairment can sometimes be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s, not all people with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease.
The NIA says that some signs of MCI include:
- Losing things often
- Forgetting to go to important events or appointments
- Having more trouble coming up with desired words than other people of the same age
One simple way to think about MCI is that it is the type of cognitive impairment that interferes with daily life, but does not prevent someone from living alone or going about their daily life. If you or someone you love is experiencing some signs of MCI, there are ways to prevent further cognitive impairment. The first, and most important step, is to see your doctor regularly. In addition to that, the NIA has published some helpful exercises to help keep your brain healthy here.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
While millions of Americans experience Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, they are not a normal part of aging and require medical intervention and care. Dementia as a disease affects more than just memory, it can affect behavior, reasoning, pattern recognition, etc. However, in early-onset cases of dementia, memory issues are often the first thing that loved ones will notice.
Some signs of dementia according to the NIA are:
- Making poor judgments and decisions a lot of the time
- Problems taking care of monthly bills
- Losing track of the date or time of year
- Trouble having a conversation
- Misplacing things often and being unable to find them
A straightforward way to think about dementia/Alzheimer’s disease-related cognitive impairment, is that it is memory loss accompanied with other cognitive issues that cause problems with a person’s ability to function in daily life.
My Dad Needs Help, What Do I Do?
Equipped with knowledge, hopefully you now feel more confident in your ability to determine if an aging family member needs help. While these tips should never be a substitute for a professional medical diagnosis, the goal is that you can feel more confident in your ability to determine if Dad forgetting about the candy is just forgetfulness, or an early sign of memory loss. If using these tips, you have determined that your loved one does need help, we at Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake have a team of dedicated professionals who are here to help!
Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake is Here to Help
Our team can set up a home visit where one of our experienced staff members comes into your home to evaluate your loved one’s needs. In this process, our goal is to partner with you and your loved one to make a care plan that prioritizes the needs of that unique individual. Whether it is help with cooking and cleaning, companionship, bathing, or any number of everyday tasks, our local caregivers are here to help! There is no obligation for meeting with us and having a conversation about what YOU need, so please contact Homewatch CareGivers of Crystal Lake for the best local homecare.