Mom (or Dad) Seems Forgetful…Should I Be Worried?

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I was recently speaking with a friend whose mother is in her early 80s. She lives across the country from her Mom and is starting to become concerned about some changes that she's detected in her mother's behavior. It begs the question, if your Mom or Dad seems forgetful, should you be worried about dementia?

What's "Normal" Forgetfulness?

Some forgetfulness with age is to be expected. The National Institutes of Health has identified five behaviors that may be indicators of more serious memory issues. These include:

  • Engaging in poor decision-making a lot of the time

  • An inability to handle monthly bills

  • Uncertainty about the date, time, or time of year

  • Trouble engaging in a conversation

  • Frequently misplacing things, then not being able to find them

The American Society on Aging notes that other symptoms in conjunction with forgetfulness may be a cause for concern. These include changes in personality, trouble handling "activities of daily living" (such as bathing, dressing, or eating), and unexpected reactions to stress or fatigue (such as forgetting who family members or friends are, or forgetting familiar information).

How Is Dementia Diagnosed?

If you and your family member is concerned about dementia, a good place to start is with a visit to the primary care physician. The doctor will gather information about medical history, conduct a physical exam, and perform tests related to balance, sensory responses, reflexes, and cognitive abilities. It may be also helpful to visit a neuropsychologist and geriatric psychiatrist for further evaluation.

What’s a Caregiver to Do?

Medical consultations are most likely just the first step in a longer journey. If your mother or father is showing signs of “normal,” aging-related forgetfulness, you still may want to put certain structures in place to help them deal with this. For instance, you might volunteer to take over paying the bills or set up a system to remind your parent to take their medications on time.

If doctors suspect dementia, it’s never too early to start a conversation with your parent about what they’d like their future to look like. Understanding their wishes will help you as you begin planning for their longer-term care.

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