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Memory loss vs. forgetfulness: How to recognize the difference

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If your mom and dad are advancing in years, chances are you’ve noticed some changes in their memory, like not remembering where they parked or forgetting to grab eggs at the grocery store. But where’s the line between “this is a normal part of aging” and “dad may need help”? Here are some signs to look for when assessing whether or not your parent might be having a significant decline in a loved one’s memory patterns:

1. Repetitive short-term memory loss
A lot of times, seniors with memory loss can recall the name of every friend they had 30 years ago, but they can’t remember what they ate for breakfast. Checking your parents’ short-term memory is easy: ask them questions about their day. If they have a hard time with their responses, that might be a red flag.

2. Difficulty following storylines
If your mom has a puzzled look on her face every time you explain why you had a rough day at work or try to catch her up on your favorite TV show, you might want to look into other symptoms of memory loss. Why? Because memory loss impairs our abilities to recognize words, both visually and audibly. So, if your mom can’t follow your stories, it may be because she doesn’t recognize some of the words you’re using.

3. Failing sense of direction
Did your dad always have an impeccable sense of direction that guided your family through every summer vacation, but now he needs to pull out a map? Chances are, that’s a normal part of aging. But what if your dad gets lost on his way to the same grocery store he’s gone to for 15 years? Or takes the wrong turn on his routine morning walk around the block? If your mom or dad has multiple episodes of being disoriented in familiar places, that may be a sign of more significant memory loss.

4. Skipping parts of their daily routine
We all have days where we put less effort into our appearance (messy hair and sweat pants, anyone?) But, if your mom goes days without brushing her teeth or changing her clothes, or if she appears to be avoiding bathing altogether, that might be a cause for concern.

If you’ve noticed a decrease in your parent’s bathing or hygiene, you may want to try these subtle changes:

  • Make sure the bathroom is warm, inviting, and well-lit, especially in evening hours.
  • Lay out everything required to take a bath or shower (i.e. soap, towels, etc.) in clear sight.
  • Ask questions that offer limited choices, for example, “Would you like to take a bath or a shower?” or “Would you like to have your bath now or before you go to bed?”

5. Losing things… a lot.
Have you ever been in a panic over misplacing something important and thought to yourself “where is the last place I had it?” People with memory loss have a really hard time answering that question, so a lot of their stuff, important, mundane, or anywhere in between, gets lost and stays lost. Also, people with memory loss sometimes stash things away in “safe” places and forget where they are, compounding the lost-and-can’t-be-found conundrum.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, if you’ve noticed an increase in your mom or dad losing things, you should make sure not to leave important documents laying around, and have a back up of other essentials like keys or glasses.

If you notice one or more of these symptoms in an aging loved one, it may be time for senior living or Memory Care. To learn more about what to look for, contact your closest Milestone Retirement community today.