This is an excerpt from LATCHES Magazine OCBA October 2020 Number 632.
FEMALE FIDUCIARY PANEL PRESENTS: Key Considerations for Diminished Capacity and Downsizing
Recognizing the Signs of Memory Loss
By Kristin A. Hughes
Estate Planning Attorney and Alzheimer's Association Board Member
Elder care issues can come fast and furious due to declining health and increased needs of seniors. This article pools expert advice for clients and their families navigating this complex stage of their loved one's life.
Aging, dementia, Alzheimer's, and memory loss are all words that tend to spark anxiety and fear in individuals. More than 5 million Americans are currently living with dementia (estimated to be 14 million by 2050 ). It can be daunting to think that inevitably one day, these words may become your reality. While certainly daunting, it is important to emphasize that there is a different perspective, one of hope and quality of life where a plan is implemented and a community of experts is available to assist during these transitioning life cycles.
Dementia is the umbrella term for a person's decline in memory and other cognitive abilities. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging and worsens over time. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but as Alzheimer's progresses, symptoms can become severe where individuals lose the ability to talk, eat, and respond to their environment. Alzheimer's has no prevention or cure, but treatments for symptoms are available and research continues.
Understanding the signs of Alzheimer's and knowing what to do when these signs appear is the first step in unwinding the fear of the unknown. In collaboration with experts in the field, the Alzheimer's Association has created a list of warning signs to help people identify symptoms that may be related to Alzheimer's or other dementia. While it is common to experience some issues with memory, thinking, and behavior as we age, there are signs that help differentiate normal forgetfulness (or stubbornness) from a more serious progressive brain disease.
TOP 10 WARNING SlGNS OF ALZHEIMER'S:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
It is possible for individuals to experience one or more of these signs in varying degrees and at varying intervals. Noticing these signs can be challenging since it is natural to feel uncertain or nervous about voicing your concerns with your loved one. However, it is important that you do so. Stigma surrounding this disease causes more harm than good and exists, in part, due to the lack of public awareness and understanding. Knowledge is power; there are many benefits to receiving an early and accurate diagnosis, including the opportunity to plan for the future, access support services, and explore medication that may address some symptoms for a time.
If you notice changes in loved ones, the steps below can help you feel more confident as you assess the situation and take action.
ASSESS THE SITUATION
- Know the top 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's.
- Are there any health or lifestyle issues that could be a factor?
- Ask another family member or friend if they have noticed changes.
START A CONVERSATION
- Have the conversation as soon as possible.
- If needed, have multiple conversations. The first conversation may not be successful. Some people attribute problems with memory, thinking, or behavior to stress or normal aging and may not take your concerns seriously. Consider the location, day, and time; what worked well and what didn't; who was involved; the end result; and what could be done differently the next time.
- Discuss seeing a doctor together. Many conditions can cause memory loss or affect thinking and behavior, so it's important to get a full medical evaluation. If the cause isn't Alzheimer's or another dementia, it could be a treatable condition.