As we age our bodies and minds go through changes. Many of these changes are normal; for instance almost all older people admit to “senior moments” when a name or title eludes them. Fortunately, the answer usually comes later in the conversation or in the middle of the night. These memory lapses are not to be feared, they are due to natural brain shrinkage in older adults that sometime causes lapses in recall.
There are however some behavior signs that reveal more serious problems. Here are four indicators that should not be ignored.
1. Forgetfulness: Absentmindedness or Dangerous Omissions?
A doctor once described the difference between normal forgetfulness and dementia this way: An older person might occasionally forget where he put the car keys. This might be due to a momentary distraction when he puts the keys down without thinking. The keys will be found with some memory prods, like thinking back over what he did when he left the car.
A more serious concern is when an older person finds the car keys but does not know what they are or what to do with them. This is a danger sign that can indicate the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another cognitive disorder that needs to be addressed.
Occasional memory lapses are due to natural changes in the brain as we age. The brain reaches its maximum size in a person’s early 20s and then starts to shrink. Blood flow to the brain decreases over time that can result in occasional memory slips. However something more dangerous is happening when a senior cannot remember how to perform day-to-day functions.
2. Inactivity: Too Tired or Too Arthritic?
Everyone gets tired from time to time. Fatigue can be caused by lack of sleep, boredom, or illness. This type of fatigue is temporary and can be cured by a good night’s sleep, finding new interests or regaining health. In contrast a person who complains from fatigue daily could be suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) a debilitating condition that can cripple a person’s ability to live independently. The symptoms of CFS can include muscle pain, pain in joints, chronic headaches and overwhelming exhaustion even after a good night sleep.
CFS is a dangerous condition and should be monitored by a doctor. Although there is no cure, there are methods for relieving some of the symptoms. A regiment of rehabilitation specialists, mental health professionals and pain management can help these people live more productive lives.
3. Confusion: Mistaken identify or Other Reality?
We all misidentify a friend occasionally. We might not be wearing our glasses or we might need a stronger lens prescription. We could also misidentify someone by association. My cousin Rachel often misidentifies her children when addressing one. She goes through the names of all three of her children and some times even her dog before she settles on the right name. This might cause some embarrassment and amusement, but is not to a cause for concern.
A senior who misidentifies a youthful person for a sibling or grade school friend is a more dangerous concern. Many older people who are in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease lose track of time and begin calling friends and family members by the names of long dead relatives. Confusing the past with the present is a dominant sign of dementia.
4. Appetite: Not Hungry or Cannot Eat?
After age 45, the average individual loses approximately10% of his muscle mass every ten years. Many older adults gradually reduce their physical activity level when this occurs,. As they become less active seniors do not need as much food and might not be as hungry and will not eat as much as in their younger days.
But sometimes the reasons for not eating are more serious. Loss of appetite can be a sign of depression. Many seniors experience intimate losses — the loss of youth, loss of loved ones, loss of possessions. Anyone of these factors can cause a person to become depressed, and lose their desire to eat.
Another reason some older people stop eating is they forget when to eat or how to eat. A person with dementia might be aware of hunger and get up to prepare a meal, but will then forget why she got up. Some dementia patients might forget how to handle utensils. They might not remember how to open a can of tuna or soup, or forget how to use a fork. These are signs that a person needs help with basic activities of daily living.
Natural aging causes changes in both are physical and mental capabilities. Many of these changes are normal, and with some life adjustments and a sense of humor, older people can continue to live productive and happy lives. However some of these changes can indicate more serious conditions. They can indicate mental and physical disorders that can be dangerous to the individual. By recognizing these danger signs and finding the right help, we can insure our loved ones stay safe.
Know someone who can use this information? Pass it Down!