It can be easy to dismiss the early signs of memory impairment in an older family member as part of the natural aging process. While aging can affect memory, such as forgetfulness, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia exhibit more distinguished signs. Essential to the health of your older family members is your ability to differentiate between forgetfulness and something more severe.
Fortunately, memory care services are available for those who need support and assistance. Brickmont Assisted Living has assisted living and memory care communities throughout Atlanta to support those living with Alzheimer's or related dementias.
We understand that receiving a dementia diagnosis can be difficult, and we offer support and care to those families. We're also sharing education on recognizing a memory impairment in a family member or loved one.
When is it More Than Forgetfulness?
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “there are ten warning signs and symptoms [of Alzheimer’s disease]. If you notice any of them, don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your doctor.” Below, we highlight these warning signs to help you recognize and be mindful of your loved one’s cognitive health.
1. Memory Loss That Disrupts Daily Life
The first sign of memory impairment can often be confused with forgetfulness. In what would be described as “typical” memory loss, an older adult might forget where they placed their keys, or the right word might escape them during a conversation. These are considered typical because they do not disrupt daily life. Misplacing an object or temporarily forgetting a word are moments that happen to nearly everyone, no matter their age.
What distinguishes between the two is when memory loss becomes so severe, it starts to negatively impact a person’s life. For example, forgetting important dates, how to operate everyday utensils (like the TV remote), and even continually forgetting what is happening in the moment are all significant enough signs to schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional.
In these circumstances, you might find that your family member forgets what is happening during a conversation and needs to repeat themselves (as though you had not previously spoken). Severe memory loss may also cause them to forget your name entirely (as opposed to temporarily) or confuse you with another person – even a person from years or decades earlier in their life.
It is the difference between misplacing your keys and forgetting what function your keys are supposed to serve.
2. Planning or Problem-Solving Challenges
When simple planning for the day or how to prepare a meal becomes a struggle, it can be a red flag for memory impairment. Other issues that would fit in this category are solving simple math problems or forgetting how daily activities are performed.
Research suggests that completing brain-boosting activities like puzzles, reading a book or newspaper, or solving simple equations, can help reduce your risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s. However, if you discover that your family member is unable to read passages in a book, complete a simple puzzle, or even help you with tasks around the house, it Is time to seek professional help.
3. Trouble Completing Tasks
If your older family member is having difficulty completing day-to-day tasks, it could mean that they need additional support, such as memory care. Recognizing a memory impairment starts with noticing if a loved one is experiencing increased difficulty and confusion when it comes to daily tasks. For example, they may forget that they have eaten breakfast or won’t remember to bathe and change their clothes.
A dedicated memory care specialist can help in these situations. At Brickmont Assisted Living, our Silver Linings Program ensures that residents within our memory care community receive kind, compassionate assistance that allows them to live each day with love and dignity. By receiving 24/7 care and participating in meaningful enrichment activities, your family member can continue to experience vitality and purpose despite a dementia diagnosis.
4. Confusion with Setting & Time
Losing track of time can happen to anyone of any age, but it can be concerning in certain situations. For example, if your family member often forgets the day, the date, or where they are, it could be a sign of memory impairment.
In these situations, it is important to remember that there are distinctions between temporary or mild forgetfulness and more serious cognitive decline. For example, if your family member forgets that an appointment is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, that could be a simple case of forgetfulness. However, if they consistently make time and setting errors – such as believing the year is some time in the past, such as their childhood, or cannot tell you what month or day it is, that should be investigated more fully.
5. Trouble Recognizing Visual Images
Difficulty differentiating colors with no prior issues or misjudging spatial distances can relate to Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. However, it can also be a sign of cataracts or different visions issues. In both cases, make an appointment with your loved one’s doctor.
One of the distinctions of this symptom is that a person living with dementia will be able to physically see objects – but they will not be able to process those objects and recognize what they are seeing. This can lead to challenges in everyday life, including mealtime.
One less-known symptom of dementia is when a person struggles to eat regular meals. This can happen for many dementia-related reasons, but one important way is that a person living with dementia may skip eating because they no longer recognize the food in front of them. If they see food but do not recognize it (or their silverware and other implements), it becomes challengings for them to consume their daily allotment of calories, leading to unnecessary weight loss.
6. Communication Issues
Noticing your loved one is stopping mid-sentence, forgetting what they are discussing, or struggling with vocabulary and pronunciation can be a warning sign. Again, as with some of the other symptoms on this list, there is a difference between temporarily forgetting something and confusing language in a more severe way.
7. Losing Items
Everyone loses their keys sometimes, and getting older may cause individuals to misplace things more frequently. However, if misplacing items becomes a daily reoccurrence, it could signify a more severe issue.
Another way of recognizing a memory impairment is noticing if your loved one is not just losing items but placing them in unexpected or unusual locations. For example, you might expect someone to misplace their keys, but if they can’t find their keys and you discover them in the back of the freezer days later, this could be a sign of dementia-related memory loss.
As stated above, a family member may also forget what an object does – they might lose an item, not because they forgot where they put it, but because they don’t understand what it is and why they have it in the first place.
8. Withdrawing Socially
A person living with memory impairment tends to pull away from social activities, hobbies, or projects. The reasons they pull away can be from forgetting how to interact or feeling frequent confusion in various situations. In this situation, it is helpful to place yourself in their shoes.
Imagine that you find yourself in increasingly unfamiliar locations. While you are there, people begin coming up to you and speaking as though they know you, even though you do not recognize them. The more they talk, the more uncomfortable, even frightening, it must become for a person living with dementia.
This is the reality for many people living with dementia and memory loss. Because they do not know how to respond or don’t recognize the people who they are “supposed to know,” they gradually withdraw, becoming more isolated each day.
Be sure to check in regularly with your family member and see if they are keeping up with their book club or golf games. If they have stopped participating in social events, but there is not a clear underlying reason (for example, illness or recent surgery), or if they don’t know what you are talking about when you mention their standing golf game every Saturday, it’s time to contact their primary care provider.
Having decreased or poor judgment with finances or daily tasks are additional ways of recognizing a memory impairment in a family member. For example, this could be not dressing weather appropriately, i.e., wearing a tank top to go outside in the winter, or saying something inappropriate to a waitress at a restaurant. Often, a person living with dementia is unable to evaluate the different factors that should be considered when making a decision.
10. Extreme Changes in Personality
When it is more than your family member being grumpy, you will know. Extreme swings in mood or personality are early signs of cognitive impairment. When mood swings become apparent, it may mean that your older loved one is feeling confused or frightened.
If you experience these changes with your family member, it is important that you maintain your patience and flexibility rather than overreact to the situation. It can be jarring when a person you love suddenly begins acting angrily or aggressively. However, remember that your family member has experienced irreversible changes to the brain. Because of this, they may experience shifts in behavior. If this happens, your ability to remain patient and compassionate is paramount.
Discover Supportive Memory Care Services
If your parent or family member has showcased one or more of these signs, do not pass it off as “getting older.” These can all be signs of memory impairment and should be discussed with a healthcare professional.
Fortunately, a person living with dementia can still experience a life full of purpose and happiness. As with any other health conditions, dementia means that a person may need additional support to continue living a life of fulfillment. Memory care communities offer safe environments where those living with dementia receive personalized care and attention, social engagement, wellness opportunities, and so much more.
At Brickmont Assisted Living, we are proud to offer valuable memory care services for older adults and families impacted by dementia. We encourage you to contact us to learn more.
Updated on June 1, 2022