You've noticed that Dad takes longer and longer to do his favorite Sunday crossword puzzle, or that Mom has trouble remembering her grandchildren's names and ages. These could be signs that your family members are dealing with cognitive decline.
It may be tempting to pass these things off as a normal part of aging, but the best thing you can do for your family is acknowledge that there may be a problem and evaluate what care they need to remain safe, independent and healthy for as long as possible.
Here is a list of conditions to consider for your next visit. These may help you determine whether your family member is suffering from mental decline, and could benefit from assisted living, memory care or a home health care provider. If you think your family member may be dealing with mobility or other physical problems that are impacting their quality of life, you may want to check our article on potential physical impairment.
1. Is your family member able to hold a coherent, prolonged conversation?
Conversing with an older person can offer clues to his/her mental status. While forgetfulness is a normal part of aging, severe memory loss can sometimes indicate deeper problems. When you talk with your elderly loved one, pay attention to whether they call you by name and is speaking at a normal tone and speed. For example, a slight slurring of words may indicate hearing loss. Agitation stemming from basic questions may indicate dementia or Alzheimer's.
2. Is your family member keeping up with current events and normal routines?
Has your family member quit participating in their favorite activities? Are they no longer speaking as frequently with friends and family? If a senior has discontinued their normal routine (with or without physical cause), has stopped making plans, or no longer references the future, they may be suffering from depression.
3. Is your family member losing weight?
Weight loss can be a sign that a loved one is not eating properly. This could have many causes including loss of mobility or sight, diminished mental capacity, or depression. A home health care provider can provide a steady diet of well-balanced meals to help your family member maintain a healthy weight.
4. Is your family member's physical appearance clean and orderly?
Signs that their mental capacity is diminished can be determined if their clothing has food or other stains, smells like it has not been recently laundered or their shoes do not match. You should evaluate if they aren't remembering to take care of other basic hygiene such as brushing their hair or teeth daily.
5. Does the house look neat and tidy?
Just as physical appearance can indicate problems with mobility or mental capacity, upkeep of the home can show signs of whether your family member is having trouble living independently and may be in need of assisted living or home health care. Are the dishes being done? Are the plants being watered? Do things smell musty or moldy? Is the garbage piling up? These can all be signs that a senior is unable to properly care for themselves without outside assistance.
What To Do If Your Loved One Has Cognitive Decline
It is understandably distressing to know that a family member is suffering from mental decline or Alzheimer's Disease. If you are concerned that your loved one might be showing signs of cognitive decline or dementia, go to a doctor for a professional diagnosis.
If they are having trouble caring for themselves, long-term home care or memory care providers offer additional support to ensure that your family member can live a safe, productive life without having to upset the stability and familiarity of their surroundings.
Written by senior housing writer Jacqui Howell.