November 1st, 2010 at 2:11 am
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Aging Parents: Sometimes the Changes Do Mean Something

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

What goes through your mind when you cannot find something? Do you have a family member who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia? How often do you refer to an incident of your forgetfulness as a senior moment?

The number of people who express the fear of “getting” Alzheimer’s disease seems to be on the increase in recent years. As a speech-language pathologist I have seen the impact this fear has on some families. Sometimes it can lead to a reluctance for learning more about memory loss. For others, approaching conversations about driving, moving, health care and financial power of attorney can become an issue. When some family members visit less often due to distance or a reluctance to become more involved, it is possible that during a short interaction that everything seems pretty normal. Maybe they feel mom or dad is slowing down or the changes they are seeing are due to normal aging, even as the difficulties seem a bit more obvious during subsequent visits.

Understanding the changes in memory with normal aging, the reversible causes of memory loss, and when to become more concerned is a good starting place. From my experiences, one person in the family may be more tuned in to the changes expected with normal aging and how that differs from some of changes where something more significant maybe be happening. Each of us has our own frame of reference, our own personality and our own way of dealing with challenges. Getting everyone in a family on the same page is not always easy, but with some increased information and providing examples of similar situations, I have seen the awareness increase over a period of time. An older adult with memory loss can benefit from an attitude where all the members of their family and support system are trying to work together, seeking information then appropriate resources.

Recently I have had a few of my client’s families express some concern as they were ready to move ahead to have some additional testing done. Their parent was seen by a physician who did some preliminary screening, indicating there was some possible dementia. Additional testing was then recommended and the older adult not only refused any further testing but also refused to go back to that doctor.

One of the client’s I worked with privately a few years did agree to having someone come in to help with some memory tips and brain games. He never did go for additional testing. His memory had changed after several mini strokes over the last year and he seemed to have lost interest in everything. The gentleman had been an educator and this approach appealed to him since he could not do his prior routine and he was actually bored. The sessions focused on training the hired caregiver to do some activities at his level of functioning during the three hours a day she came a few times a week so his wife could get some respite. The suggestions, activities and resources allowed a potentially difficult situation to become an opportunity to enhance the quality of life of all involved.

The upcoming blogs on this topic were created to help anyone concerned about an older adult’s memory and safety. For additional information refer to Aging Parents: Do these Changes Mean Something? Part 1 and Part 2

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” Thomas Merton

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