Signs Care is Needed

Has Mom misplaced her keys? Is Dad having trouble paying bills? Often we wonder if it's just forgetfulness or something more. And once you've recognized memory loss, where do you go from there? Memory issues not only affect the person, but also take an emotional toll on all family members.

Let's start with some basics about recognizing the symptoms of serious memory loss and other significant behavioral changes:

What Is Dementia?

Dementia refers to the loss of intellectual functions (thinking, remembering, reasoning) of sufficient severity to interfere with a person's daily functioning. It is not a disease itself, but rather a group of symptoms that may accompany certain diseases or conditions.

Symptoms may also include changes in personality, mood and behavior, not necessarily accompanied by noticeable memory loss or language problems. Dementia is irreversible when caused by disease or certain injuries. It may be partially or fully reversible when caused by drugs, alcohol, depression or imbalances in certain substances, such as hormones or vitamins.

What Is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several brain areas, leading to loss of recent memories and new learning first, and eventually old memories, too.

Knowing What to Look For

When you see a family member only on holidays and special occasions, it may be harder (or much easier) to detect potential problems. And if your parents are still living together, keep in mind that they may compensate for each other's weaknesses, making it easy to miss the changes during brief visits. In earlier stages, problems may not be present all the time. Some days or times of day may be better than others.

When it comes to mental deterioration - Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia - there are certain signals to look for:

  • Problems with managing finances, talking, menu planning, food preparation, sleeping, managing medications
  • An overall unkempt appearance and disregard for personal cleanliness
  • Changes in appetite and food preferences (e.g., excessive interest in sweets)
  • Faulty reasoning skills (e.g., they may believe they must enter sweepstakes, or contribute excessively to a cause)
  • Stacks of mail and unpaid bills lying around
  • Lack of interest in friends or activities
  • Forgetfulness or loss of short-term memory
  • Depression
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Wandering
  • Incontinence

Experts suggest you seek help, but not jump to conclusions. If several of these things are happening with your family member, go with them to talk to their doctor. A medical evaluation may reveal that a medical condition or medications are causing the unusual behavior. Stress, depression, nutritional deficiencies, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses may also cause memory issues.