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You Can Make a Difference in the Life of Someone With Memory Loss

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If you have an aging parent, friend or other loved one, you are well aware of the inner struggle between respecting the person’s privacy and making the decision to step in when you see potential danger in their future. One common scenario in which this dilemma arises is when you realize your loved one’s memory lapses or bouts of forgetfulness may be pointing toward a more serious issue.

Any one of the following signs should prompt you to seek medical help for your friend or family member.

Word-finding problems. The person often struggles to remember common, basic words or substitutes words that are close but not correct.

Neglect of basic safety precautions. The person may habitually leave the stove or iron on after using it. Another example is someone driving somewhere then realizing they have no idea where they are or how they got there.

Sleep disorders or interruptions. You may discover your loved one wandering around at night instead of sleeping. Often, the person may not even be aware they should be in bed—that it is the time of day when they should be sleeping.

Losing focus regarding self-care. You may find that your loved one is not practicing basic hygiene, such as showering, shaving, brushing their teeth or putting on clean clothing. Some people even forget to eat.

Avoiding your questions—or getting angry. You find your loved one responding to non-controversial questions (such as “What is the name of the street you live on?” or “What month is this?”) with a vague answer such as “I don’t care about that” instead of “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” The person may respond with anger when pressed or when asked questions they don’t have an answer for. Keep in mind that their long-term memory may still be good; they may clearly remember events from 50 years ago but not be able to tell you if they had breakfast this morning.

Problem-solving difficulties. The person is unable to correctly answer hypothetical questions such as, “What would you do if a pan on your stove caught on fire?” This issue also manifests itself in piles of unopened mail (including unpaid bills). In addition, the person may not be able to accomplish simple, multi-step processes, such as following a recipe or doing the laundry.

It is important to note that there are a number of issues that can contribute to memory loss; it’s not always about Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. That’s why it is critical to see a physician, who can run tests and do other evaluations that help to diagnose the source of the problem. At times, changes in medication, treatment of underlying health problems, lifestyle modification and/or counseling can correct memory issues.

Seniors often neglect having annual physicals—even those who consistently saw their physician earlier in life. As a caregiver or concerned friend, you can help by making regular physician visits a habit for your loved one. Even though it may be a delicate issue to approach or the person may resist at first, it is worth your effort to help to avert a potentially dangerous or deadly situation for your loved one, as well as anyone who might be injured by his or her actions.

If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, there are things that can be done to help your loved one—and you—make the best of the time ahead. For instance, although there is no cure, there are excellent medications that can slow the progress of the disease.

In addition, an enormous amount of support is available in the form of agencies such as Simi Valley Hospital’s Home Health Services. In these agencies, a team of medical professionals with special expertise in caring for elderly patients will coordinate their efforts with your loved one’s physician to ensure that everyone involved receives the education and support they need. These teams typically include nurses, speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and social workers.

It’s unsettling to discover that someone you care about is experiencing significant memory loss. However, by facing the issue head-on, you can make a positive difference in your loved one’s future.

Melody Stopher, RN, BSN, PHN, is the clinical manager for Adventist Health Home Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital.