Are they Senior Moments or is it Dementia?


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Can you remember the great meal you had last weekend, but can’t remember the name of the restaurant? Have you ever frantically called your cell phone in an effort to find it, only to realize it was in your pocket the whole time, or looked for your glasses when they were sitting atop your head? Should you worry about instances like this, or chalk them up to senior moments?

Becoming more forgetful is a natural part of aging, experts say. Forgetful moments can also be attributed to chronic stress, sleeplessness, depression, and other ailments. Luckily, minor memory lapses that often occur with age are not always signs of a mild cognitive impairment or dementia, but rather the result of normal changes in the brain as we age and/or experience the ailments described above.

Below are some signs of mild cognitive impairment and some signs of dementia.  Keep in mind that because mild cognitive impairment may be a precursor to dementia, it’s important to see your doctor or specialist every 6 to 12 months to get checked if you have any of signs of mild cognitive impairment.

Signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

People with MCI can take care of themselves and do their normal activities. MCI memory symptoms may include:

  • Losing things often.
  • Forgetting to go to events and appointments.
  • Having more trouble coming up with words than other people of the same age.

Your doctor can do thinking, memory, and language tests to see if you have MCI. He or she also may suggest that you see a specialist for more tests.

At this time, there is no proven treatment for MCI. Your doctor can check to see if you have any changes in your memory or thinking skills over time. You may want to try to keep your memory sharp by engaging with friends and family and learning new skills.

Signs of Dementia

Memory lapses may look like simple forgetfulness at first but, over time, people with dementia have trouble thinking clearly. They find it hard to do everyday things like shopping, driving and cooking. As the illness gets worse, those with dementia may need someone to take care of all their needs at home or in a nursing home. These needs may include feeding, bathing and dressing.

Unfortunately, dementia comes in many forms and with a myriad of symptoms.  The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Other types of dementia include: Lewy body dementia; dementia brought on by Parkinson’s disease; vascular dementia brought on by repeated strokes; Pick’s disease; frontal lobe dementia; frontotemporal lobe dementia; Lewy body dementia, and many others. Click here for a much more complete and detailed list of the different types of dementia.  The main thing that all of these diseases have in common is that they cannot be screened for an advance. And, even if they are discovered, there is no treatment that can reverse their course. However, if you are truly worried about how serious your forgetfulness is, you should certainly make an appointment with a doctor to get tested, as early detection is important for planning for long-term care and participating in trials to help stave off the disease and possibly find a cure. Please read our blog post that explains more about the importance of early detection.

A Helpful Tool to Differentiate Between Normal Aging and Cognitive Decline

A recent test developed by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis consists of eight yes-or-no questions that assess whether there has been a marked change over time in the person’s behavior as seen through a series of scenarios. If you answer yes to two of them, then it may be the first signs of MCI or dementia. Called the AD8 Interview, the test can be given to you, your spouse, or your children to assess your cognitive status.

How to Deal with Senior Moments

Forgetting important things can be annoying and embarrassing. Whether it is simply a Senior Moment of is actually due to MCI or the early stages of dementia, below are four most common memory complaints and tips for dealing with them:

1. Remembering names and faces: You recognize the face, but can’t recall the name.

Advice: As soon as you meet someone, try to associate his or her name with something familiar. If, for example, you’re introduced to Mr. Gray and he has gray hair, you can think, “Gray has gray hair.”

2. Tip-of-the-tongue problems: You can’t think of the name of the movie you saw last night — until you’re driving home from the dinner party where you made a fool of yourself struggling to remember it.

Advice: Write down (on paper or on your smartphone) the name of the movie and as many words as you can associate with it. That simple exercise will allow you to access those words the next time and make it easier to remember the movie title (or whatever it is that’s on the “tip of your tongue.”)

3. Memory places: Forgetting where you put things can be solved simply by always putting them in the same place every time you put them down.

Advice: If you can’t put your keys or your wallet down in its usual home, then say to yourself as you’re putting it down, “I am putting my keys on the nightstand.”

4. Prospective memory: If you forget to bring things to appointments, or walk out of the house without what you need for an important meeting, then the fix is to slow down.

Advice: Check your calendar at the same time and in the same place each day. Before you leave your house, think through what’s involved in what you are going to do.

What Can Family Members Do to Help?

If your family member or friend has a serious memory problem, you can help the person live as normal a life as possible. You can help the person stay active, go places, and keep up everyday routines. Some families use the following things to help with memory problems:

• Big calendars to highlight important dates and events.

• Lists of the plans for each day.

• Notes about safety in the home.

• Written directions for using common household items (most people with Alzheimer’s disease can still read).

Planning in Advance While Your Mind is Sharp

Many people delay estate planning, incapacity planning, and long-term care planning partly because it’s unpleasant to contemplate our own mortality, and partly because younger adults believe such paperwork isn’t necessary until they reach old age. However, failing to plan or waiting too long or until your cannot make sound decisions can have catastrophic consequences:

Incapacity planning: A common belief is that if we become unable to make decisions for ourselves, our family will decide what is best for us. This can lead to difficult and emotionally charged situations or your wishes not being met if you or a loved one becomes incapacitated and having to go through lifetime probate, which could easily be avoided with proper Incapacity Planning.

Estate planning: Estate-planning mistakes can be costly, even among those who are fiscally prudent. Any number of oversights can leave you vulnerable in the event of an untimely death. Others can seriously compromise the amount your heirs will inherit when you die. Read our blog post, “The Five Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes” for more details.

Long-Term Care Planning: Nursing homes in the Metro DC area cost $12,000 to $14,000 a month. It is important to protect yourself and your loved ones from having to go broke to pay for nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you or your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home.

As you can see, to ensure your wishes are met, it is important to start your planning while your mind is still sharp and your judgment is sound, so you are prepared in advance if a crisis occurs. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us for a consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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