Advice on How to Help an Elderly Parent With Memory Loss
Growing old is not easy. Not only does our body tend to get out of shape, but so does our brain. As a result, some level of forgetfulness in the elderly is unavoidable and we, as (future) caregivers, need to educate ourselves on how to help an elderly parent with memory loss to the best of our abilities.
This article will answer questions about cognitive decline that you may have asked yourself at some point:
⇀ At what age does memory start to decline?
⇁ How much does aging affect memory, compared to other causes?
⇀ Is it possible that my parents have dementia or Alzheimer’s if they experience periods of forgetfulness?
⇁ What is normal memory loss, and when should I be concerned?
⇀ What aging at home technology options are available to help my parents navigate or alleviate their memory problems?
If you have an elderly parent or grandparent that you care for, this article is for you. Read on to learn how to be a better caregiver for your elderly loved one who is experiencing memory loss.
At What Age Does Memory Start to Decline?
According to recent research, a healthy brain normally remains fully functional for the majority of a person’s life, even well into their 60s.
As long as we follow a healthy lifestyle, manage our stress levels, and exercise four to five days a week, we can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50 percent.
How Much Does Aging Affect Memory Vs. Other Causes for Memory Loss
Most people experience age-related memory impairment after the age of 80. We process information slower, forget names and words, and our mathematical and spatial skills deteriorate.
Other causes for memory issues are:
• Grief and other emotional problems;
◦ Hearing loss or poor vision;
• Overmedication or certain drug combinations that can cause confusion and dizziness;
◦ Cardiovascular disease;
• High cholesterol;
◦ Thyroid problems;
• Alcohol and smoking;
◦ Vitamin deficiencies — B12 especially;
• Infections like HIV and syphilis.
How to Tell if You’re Dealing with Mild Memory Loss, Dementia or Alzheimer’s
First off, let’s define each type of memory condition.
As previously stated, age-related memory impairment is almost inevitable and is a normal part of aging. Except for the occasional tip-of-the-tongue, forgetfulness in the elderly has little impact on their daily lives. Seniors can keep their minds as sharp as possible by leading a healthy and active lifestyle.
It’s important to address that age-associated memory impairment is sometimes misdiagnosed as mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Around 80% of Americans know very little about this type of cognitive ability loss. With MCI, seniors often forget important events or appointments. They misplace items and have more trouble expressing themselves verbally. Despite these inconveniences, they are capable of living independently. The downside is that up to 60% of people with MCI are likely to develop dementia.
Dementia is a serious memory problem affecting 12-15% of people over the age of 70, as well as nearly 40% of 90-year-olds. Recent studies also indicate that, on rare occasions, people under the age of 50 can develop early-onset dementia.
Its symptoms are difficult to distinguish from other age-related memory loss in the early stages. However, as dementia progresses, the impact on short-term memory becomes more noticeable. It gets more difficult to pay bills and remember recent events, and it can even cause loss of coordination and linguistic abilities.
The most concerning aspect of this illness is that it eventually compromises long-term memory. That means you don’t just forget something and remember it later — you lose that memory completely.
The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AD), followed by vascular diseases that can lead to vascular dementia. The third most common condition is Lewy body dementia, whose causes are not well known.
• The early stage, consisting of: difficulty recalling recent events, concentrating, and thinking abstractly; tip-of-the-tongue; misplacing valuable objects;
◦ The middle stage: disorientation; not paying bills; incontinence; compulsive and repetitive behaviour;
• The late stage: all short-term memory is gone; most long-term memory is affected; difficulty communicating; the senior can no longer care for him/herself.
The causes of Alzheimer’s are not clear-cut, but scientists do know that cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes significantly increase the risk of developing this condition.
Most people are aware that maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help prevent cardiovascular disease — and that it is often well within our power to do so.
In the United States, more than 5 million people suffer from AD.
If you are concerned about inheriting bad genes and developing AD as a result, you can rest easier knowing that genetic mutations only account for about 5% of all AD cases.
As can be seen, there are various factors that can help a medical professional to determine the severity of a senior’s memory loss.
When to Seek Professional Help
It’s a good idea to talk to your parent’s family doctor if you notice any of the following issues:
• The senior is constantly forgetting things that could endanger them, such as turning off the stove;
◦ They often forget to take care of themselves, like showering or washing their clothes;
• You notice a cognitive decline, such as an inability to pay bills or mispronouncing common words.
When you accompany your parent to the doctor’s office for their examination, you can expect the following procedures:
• A cognitive test in which your parent may be asked, for example, to count backward or recall well-known facts;
◦ A positron emission tomography (PET) scan;
• Blood tests to check for deficiencies, thyroid problems, or infections.
Caregiving Tips for How to Help an Elderly Parent with Memory Loss
There is no cure for memory loss, unfortunately, but there are things you can do in caring for elderly parents to help prevent serious issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
1. Keep Tabs on Their Nutrition and Medication
As seen above, a healthy lifestyle is crucial to avoid the worst memory loss for as long as possible:
• Encourage your parent to consume anti-inflammatory foods that improve brain function (berries, broccoli, kale, avocado, nuts, and whole grains);
◦ Supplement when necessary, according to your family doctor’s advice;
• Avoid processed foods as much as possible;
◦ Avoid tobacco and restrict alcohol;
• Carefully manage any existing ailment;
◦ Have your parent do regular check-ups for their vision and hearing;
• Don’t take unnecessary medication.
2. Create a Healthy Routine and Environment
For essential safety tips, check out our article on monitoring elderly parents remotely.
• Declutter their living space;
◦ Plan social activities;
• Keep a simple daily routine for them and set up all the reminders they might require — anything like writing in a small notebook they can keep on hand, setting up phone alarms, or using an elderly monitoring system should work;
◦ Place labels on cabinet doors, so they know where to find any useful daily item.
3. Keep Calm and Offer Emotional Support
If your elderly parent is suffering from memory loss, they are most likely upset, frustrated, or worried already. Try not to contribute to this by correcting their mistakes too often, especially if they’re not important.
For more information, you can ask your family doctor to refer you to a social worker to learn how to manage specific lifestyle changes in the elderly. We also strongly recommend the Alzheimer’s Association for their resources and the support groups that you and your parent can join.
4. Increase Cognitive Abilities with Physical and Mental Stimulation
Physical activity, like going for a walk, increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, which keeps your parent’s memory sharp. Exploring different parts of town helps to engage their minds and enhance their spatial skills.
For mental stimulation, anything like crossword puzzles or Sudoku is a good idea. Add to that whatever else your elderly parent enjoys, like playing the piano (even if they may not play as well as they did in their youth).
Aside from the benefits to our mood and memory, socializing is a vital part of our life. Find a community activity that your elderly parent can participate in.
You’ve probably experienced that when meeting someone new and they tell you their name, it’s a good idea to repeat it aloud to help you remember it. Well, you can use the same technique to alleviate forgetfulness in the elderly. Have them say out loud the things they need to remember, such as the hour you’re going to visit them.
5. Learn About Modern Aging at Home Technology
Aging at home technology, particularly devices that use artificial intelligence, can help plan healthy routines, set up reminders, and track vital signs like blood pressure and oxygen levels.
CareAlert is an example of a modern elderly monitoring system that comprises one or more devices you can plug in throughout the home. It can monitor and evaluate essential aspects including temperature, indoor air quality, motion, and sound. The device’s deep learning function allows it to analyze the senior’s activity and well-being without invading their privacy.
It delivers data immediately to the caregiver via a smartphone application, such as how many hours they slept or whether they went to the kitchen to take their prescription. That way, the caregiver will know if and when they need to check up on them.
Memory loss issues are highly complex and there is much research being done to better understand, prevent, and treat the symptoms. The advice in this article should give you a starting point for how to help an elderly parent with memory loss.
At CareAlert, we are dedicated to empowering seniors in our communities with modern technology that significantly improves their lives. We also aim to inform caregivers about how to take better care of their elderly loved ones and ensure their own peace of mind.
Get in touch with us today if you want to learn more about how CareAlert can help your aging parent or grandparent live an active, fulfilling, and independent life.
NOTE: The information we provide in the article does not replace a medical consultation. Always talk to your primary care doctor before making any change in your diet, exercise regimen, or medical treatment.