Although some forms of memory loss are quite common in adults age 65 and older and may be of little concern, there are certain symptoms that indicate something more than normal forgetfulness is occurring. When these signs become consistent and concerning, it can affect the ability to safely age in place and may indicate it’s time to consider formal memory care as the more practical and secure alternative. Abbie Crank, writing for the online information blog Senior Resource (https://www.seniorresource.com/), offers “critical signs” — including several as described below — that may indicate the need for memory care is at hand. You will note certain signs feature details that overlap with other signs as far as what you may specifically witness.
This does not mean occasional forgetfulness that doesn’t disrupt one’s life. It means forgetfulness that interferes with daily functioning and is causing concern. Signs to watch for include: • Repeating conversations • Misplacing items • Difficulty with following instructions such as recipes • Forgetting to bathe, eat, or take prescription medication • Getting lost in familiar places • Forgetting important dates, like birthdays or anniversaries • Becoming increasingly confused about time • Asking the same questions over and over again.
This is common among Alzheimer’s patients, and typically (though not exclusively) occurs when a person’s dementia-related symptoms worsen during the evening and night hours. Sundown syndrome can be caused by sensory overload, low lighting, and even unmet physical needs. Common symptoms of sundown syndrome include: • Insomnia • Wandering • Pacing • Rocking in a chair • Crying • Increased fear, anxiety, agitation, or restlessness • Paranoia • Confusion.
Wandering and getting lost or disoriented is common in individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia and affects up to 60% of people with memory disorders. (To guard against this, memory care communities have security features and trained staff who provide round-the-clock care and supervision.)
If a person with dementia wanders, remain calm and do the following: • Contact the police if the person is missing for more than a few minutes • Search the surrounding area for the person • Check with friends and family to see if they have seen them • Review surveillance footage of the area, if available, where the person was last seen • Provide comfort and support to the person once they are found • Make changes to the person’s environment to help prevent future wandering.
Difficulty with Daily Tasks
This means difficulty with things like cooking, eating, cleaning, and bathing. Or matters such as bill paying, record-keeping, maintaining communication with one’s family and social circle, daily activity planning, etc.
Changes in Mood or Personality
Is your loved one becoming confused, agitated, or violent? Other key signs to look for include: • Depression • Anger • Anxiety • Irritability • Apathy • Lack of initiative • Paranoia.
Individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia often struggle with self-care and personal hygiene. This may include difficulty with (or skipping) bathing, brushing teeth, and taking care of hair. Another sign is wearing dirty clothing. It’s important to remember that poor hygiene can lead to infections and other health issues.
As memory-related diseases progress, communication skills tend to decline. Those affected may struggle to express themselves or to understand others, which can lead to confusion or frustration for both the individuals and their caregivers.
Keeping individuals with memory disorders safe can be a challenge. In addition to the risk of wandering as described above, other perils can include leaving electrical appliances unattended, or misusing them in dangerous ways. The risk of falls is ever-present. Doors might be left unlocked. The chance of falling prey to scams can be heightened as mental faculties change. These and other signs of safety risks may indicate formal memory care is needed.
What You Can Do If You See Signs that Memory Care May Be Needed
If you see signs such as those mentioned here or see other things that raise your concern, the appropriate step to take is talking to a medical professional about the proper level of care your loved one needs. Keep in mind that while a number of these signs may point to memory problems, some of them might indicate a different issue such as a mini-stroke, depression, dementia, or a cardiac, neurological, or other issue.
You may find it useful to review the features of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in our AgeWise Colorado article at https://agewisecolorado.org/blog/dementia-and-alzheimers-the-differences-and-similarities/. Memory impairment often accompanies these disorders. Another article of ours at https://agewisecolorado.org/blog/tips-offered-for-caregivers-of-loved-ones-with-dementia/ offers valuable advice for caregivers who may be witnessing memory problems or signs of dementia. We also offer a webinar on caregiver considerations and resources that you can view at https://agewisecolorado.org/blog/caregiver-considerations-and-resources-for-dementia-alzheimers-for-individuals-with-intellectual-developmental-disabilities/.
Taking all this into consideration, you can readily see why consulting with a professional healthcare provider in so important in assessing what symptoms of memory loss might mean. If it turns out memory care is warranted, remember that although making such a change can be hard, the right memory care community can make a big difference in ensuring security for your loved one . . . and bringing peace of mind to you as caregiver.