At your next family gathering, you may notice that your loved one is acting a bit off. Perhaps their mood is out of character, or their attire seems slightly disheveled. Maybe they forgot a key ingredient when cooking their signature dish or asked you the same question multiple times.
While it’s common to associate forgetfulness with aging, these moments may be symptoms of memory impairment, such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. It’s incredibly important to recognize the warning signs and seek medical assistance for your loved one sooner rather than later.
Below are four warning signs of memory impairment—but this list is not definitive and is not a substitute for a medical assessment by a professional.
1. Forgetfulness or disorientation
Everyone forgets things from time to time. The difference between a simple lapse and a symptom of dementia can sometimes be subtle, especially early in the stages of the disease. But there are a few things to keep a close eye on.
For instance, when visiting Mom or Dad at their home, you may notice that their fridge is empty. It may not have registered in their mind that it’s time to go to the grocery store. It is also possible that a monthly bill has not been paid. Forgetting an item on the grocery list or making the occasional oversight on a bill isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. However, it is troubling when the action becomes more consistent.
Those with memory impairment often revert to a different time in their lives. Mom, for example, may be under the impression that she is still working at the company she retired from over 15 years ago. If this type of disorientation comes without any reason, often it is a sign of something more concerning than simple forgetfulness.
2. Difficulty solving problems
When memory loss begins to be a problem, tasks that involve a bit of brainpower can be hard for your loved one. Maybe your parent was an accountant and you see them struggle to solve simple math problems. Or maybe they were very handy, but suddenly are perplexed with how to fix a dead lightbulb.
When your loved one has difficulty solving problems that seem usually within their wheelhouse, this can be a red flag to closely watch and discuss with your loved one’s physician.
3. Misplacing items
When a loved one develops Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, he or she may leave items in unusual places. For instance, you could find milk in the cabinet, shoes in the bathtub, or keys in the freezer. This type of displacement is more of a cause for concern than the typical displacement of one’s keys, wallet, or eyeglasses.
4. Trouble with navigation
As humans, we typically stick to a routine, especially as we age. We frequent the same few restaurants, we’re loyal to our hairdresser or barber, we drive to one supermarket, and we pick up our medications at the drugstore nearby.
Those who have developed memory loss can have trouble remembering how to travel to and from his or her typical spots. If this does occur, it is encouraged that you speak with your parent or loved one about his or her ability to drive moving forward. Being the bearer of bad news can be upsetting but their safety is always the priority. Your loved one may be hurt or confused, so give them some time to process the news.
It is easy to overlook a symptom or two but becoming familiar with the signs of memory impairment can lead to early detection and make a big difference in slowing your loved one’s progression of a related disease.