Getting older brings an abundance of physical changes for most people. Energy levels may decline, bones begin to creak, arthritis can produce symptoms of discomfort, and vision or hearing acuity may require glasses or hearing aids. Yet these common signs of aging don’t typically generate fear in the same way as memory loss. When individuals start to exhibit a steady decline with memory, rationale thinking or reasoning skills, an effort should be made to seek medical evaluation and support. Having the ability to function day-to-day with normal thinking capabilities is the catalyst for individuals being able to live independently without concern.
There are a few general warning signs relating to memory loss that trigger the need for a medical assessment. Individuals may regularly experience one or more of these symptoms:
Reduced Task Management Those with Alzheimer’s Disease or memory loss may find it challenging to handle routine, day-to-day tasks. They may have trouble using the oven, operating appliances, driving to familiar locations, managing the checkbook or remembering how to use a phone. It is interesting to note that for those experiencing memory loss symptoms, their most recent memories are the ones that fragment the most. It is not uncommon for someone with memory loss to cite exact details of an event that occurred 40 years ago. They draw knowledge from the past, but may not be able to function or remember details in the present.
Forgetting time, place and dates Individuals with memory loss may forget times, dates, seasons, birthdays or appointments. They may also have trouble understanding a normal conversation. It is not unusual for someone with memory loss to forget where they are, who they’re with or how they got there.
Challenge with communications A person with memory loss may find it difficult to participate in a normal conversation. A discussion may be punctuated by long pauses, a struggle with words or vocabulary, a repetition of phrases or general confusion.
Visual disorientation Visual disorientation may be an overt sign of Alzheimer’s. Individuals may have trouble reading a book or newspaper, judging distances and spaces or determining colors and contrast. This is especially challenging when it comes to driving where visual skills are vital – and it may be time to relinquish a driver’s license.
Hygiene begins to falter A well-groomed person may lose complete interest in personal hygiene. Bathing stops, hair may go unwashed for days, nails need trimming, shaving is curtailed and clothing may be soiled. Personal hygiene may become a low, if not forgotten priority.
Misplacing items Losing things may become more commonplace for some people who may not have the memory for re-tracing their steps to find them. They may also place personal objects in unusual, hard-to-find locations.
Changing personality and mood There are days when individuals with memory loss may be surprisingly alert and attentive. On other days, they may exhibit great confusion and become depressed, angry, suspicious, fearful or unusually anxious. These personality changes may increase when individuals are exposed to situations outside their home and away from their comfort zone. They may become easily upset or flustered at family gatherings, parties, restaurants or places that are not familiar.
Avoiding social activities The signs may be subtle at first, but some people with memory loss may start to avoid social engagements or group interactions. Social activities may make them uncomfortable or unsure of themselves. They may also forget the positive association they had with personal hobbies, favorite sports teams, games or household projects they once enjoyed. Limiting social activities to shorter time spans may be helpful.
Decline in decision-making One of the most critical changes affecting a person with Alzheimer’s is the inability to make important decisions. This is especially true when handling financial matters. Banking, insurance payments, bill-paying and purchases may need assistance or oversight from a family member or friend. Careful monitoring of finances should be a priority to avert problems with important money matters.
Having a professional diagnosis and assessment of Alzheimer’s or memory loss will allow family members to move to a new level when considering care, living options, transportation concerns, medical plans, safety factors and the handling of financial and legal issues. It will be important to build a reliable support network to navigate the future. Once a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia is made, the future will require care, support, understanding and intervention.
“Having a professional medical team makes a big difference in helping families cope with the physical, emotional and social changes of an Alzheimer’s patient,” said Dr. Peter Norvid, medical director and board-certified geriatrician for the Geriatric Assessment Center and Outpatient Clinic located at King-Bruwaert House in Burr Ridge. “It helps to be prepared for the early- mid- and late stages that accompany a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Families can anticipate needs and respond with the appropriate medical care and attention.”
For more information on medical assessments, call the Geriatric Assessment Center at (630) 655-7002. New patients are welcome to the clinic. Note: Excerpts of guidelines are referenced from the Alzheimer’s Association in this article.