Maybe you’ve started to notice that your mom or dad seems to be forgetting things more often. You call to ask what they had for dinner last night and they can’t remember. Or for the first time, a card didn’t arrive in the mail for Timmy’s birthday. When you ask about it, they’re sure they mailed it but not sure when or what the card looked like. It’s moments like these, that doubts of your parents’ mental health may pop into your head.
As their caregiver, you may begin to wonder if dementia or Alzheimer’s has begun to erode at the memory function of your parent’s brain. But, before you take that leap, before the worries of your parent forgetting who you are, and who they are; take a deep breath and really look at what is being forgotten.
Everyone forgets things sometimes and as a person gets older, it is natural that more things will get temporarily forgotten when asked to recall a fact or name. Getting older naturally causes changes in brain functions and many things that came quickly may not come as quickly as before for your aging parent. It does not mean that dementia is on the horizon.
All of the following can be considered normal memory lapses:
* Sometimes forgetting where you left things;
* Walking into a room and not remembering why you went into that room;
* Having a bit of trouble pulling up names of people or places on the spot; and
* Forgetting all the details of a conversation.
As you watch your aging parent struggle with certain memory aspects, instead of counting the number of times that he or she has forgotten a minor detail, instead focus on how the forgetting affects her quality of life. While minor memory lapses are more of an annoyance, and have little impact on quality of life, dementia will seep into all aspects of an aging person’s life. As a child of an aging parent, you’ll notice a persistent decline in abilities such as judgment, language and abstract thinking.
While dementia can take ahold of the brain in many ways, some of the more common symptoms of the beginning of dementia are listed here:
* Getting lost on familiar paths. (For example, your parent no longer can remember how to make it home from the grocery store.)
* Struggling to perform simple tasks. (For example, your parent can no longer be trusted to pick out appropriate clothes for the weather or they can’t follow a recipe anymore.)
* Repeating phrases over and over that aren’t appropriate to the conversation. (For example, you’re trying to talk about Timmy’s birthday party, but your parent keeps asking about her sister’s journal from 40 years ago.)
As the family caregiver who most likely knows your parent best, once you start to see memory loss affect your parent’s quality of life or even put your parent in dangerous situations, you will most likely be the person to decide when a doctor’s visit is in order. A doctor will help you determine next steps, from medications, to memory tricks and exercises, or maybe considering hiring a home care provider that will come into your parent’s home and help with some of the tasks that have now become stumbling blocks. You will not have to walk this path alone, and will find many valuable resources out there to help you help your parent continue to thrive and enjoy life.