Noticing memory problems? What to do next
Dear Savvy Senior,
My mom, who’s 76, has become more forgetful lately and is worried she may be getting Alzheimer’s disease. What resources can you recommend to help us get a handle on this?
Many seniors worry about memory lapses as they get older, fearing it may be the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease or some other type of dementia. To get some insight on the seriousness of your mom’s problem, here are some key warning signs to be vigilant of and some resources you can turn to for help.
As we grow older, some memory difficulties—such as trouble remembering names of people or places or forgetting where you put your glasses or car keys—are associated with normal aging. But the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are much more than simple memory lapses.
Knowing the early warning signs is a good first step in recognizing the difference between typical age-related memory loss and a more serious problem. To help you evaluate your mom’s condition, here’s a checklist of some common early symptoms to watch for:
• Asking the same questions repeatedly.
• Getting lost in familiar areas.
• Failing to recognize familiar people.
• Having difficulty following directions.
• Misplaces items in inappropriate places, for example putting her keys in the microwave.
• Having difficulty completing familiar tasks like cooking a meal or paying a bill.
• Having trouble remembering common words when speaking or mixing up words.
For more information, see the Alzheimer’s Association list of 10 early signs and symptoms at 10signs.org.
Another good tool to help you evaluate your mom is the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE test) that was developed at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
This free test helps identify mild cognitive impairment and early dementia and can be taken at home in about 10 to 15 minutes. The SAGE test can be taken online at BrainTest.com.
If you would rather have professional assistance in evaluating your mom, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (see alzfdn.org) is another good resource you can turn to.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday they provide free, confidential virtual memory screenings done via video chat in real time. Your mother will need a phone, tablet or computer with a webcam and internet capability to complete the screening.
The screenings are given by healthcare professionals and take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Once the screening is complete, the screener will review the results with her and let her know if she should see a doctor for further evaluation. To set up a memory screening for your mom call 866-232-8484 and make an appointment.
If you find that your mom does need further evaluation, make an appointment with her primary care doctor for a cognitive checkup and medical examination. Depending on what’s found, she may be referred to a geriatrician or neurologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease.
Keep in mind that even if your mom is experiencing some memory problems, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has early-stage Alzheimer’s. Many memory problems are brought on by other factors like stress, depression, thyroid disease, side effects of medications, sleep disorders, vitamin deficiencies and other medical conditions. And by treating these conditions she can reduce or eliminate the problem.
Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior, a syndicated information column for older Americans and their families that is published in more than 400 newspapers and magazines nationwide. Jim is also a regular contributor on NBC’s “Today” show and is the author of The Savvy Senior, The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens (Hyperion).