Does something feel off about an older loved one? Have you felt uneasy following a visit with mom or dad? Older loved ones may chalk up lapses in memory, or other bouts of forgetfulness, as merely “age-appropriate.” Although your older loved ones may be used to handling themselves and wish to reassure their family, YOU are the one who knows them the best. Worrying about the cognitive health of an older loved one is not only normal, but should be encouraged. Take a look at the helpful tips below if you think your loved one may be trying to hide or dismiss symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
What is it?
Alzheimer’s disease is an ailment that affects older adults which can lead to general cognitive decline known as dementia.1 While dementia is a catch-all term for classifying a decline in mental abilities that impact a person’s daily life, Alzheimer’s is a specific degenerative brain disease that has its own diagnosis. While common in older adults, it is important to understand that Alzheimer’s disease is NOT a normal part of aging; it is a progressive disease – one that is generally split into three stages (early, middle, late) and which does not have a cure.
“This seems serious. Are you trying to scare me??”
As with all things regarding aging and senior care, there is always hope and comfort even when things seem serious. If found and diagnosed early, the impacts of the disease can be greatly diminished. In fact, varying medications and treatments continue to be tested each year.1 Such methods can reduce the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for older loved ones. However, attached to this ray of hope is the great hallmark of the disease, and one that can be overlooked: early identification and diagnosis is key. This is why it is imperative to figure out if your loved one is displaying, or trying to hide, symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
So What are the Key Symptoms I Should Look For?
When keeping an eye out for early stage symptoms, keep in mind the “Two M’s”: Memory and Mood. Is your loved one forgetting names or events? Are they forgetting recent conversations or misplacing familiar items? Do they repeat the same questions or phrases? While major signs, some less noticeable ones include having trouble thinking of the right word(s) to say or taking a while to make decisions.2 In the same way, mood swings that include anxiety, agitation, depression, frustration, or that involve periods of confusion point towards Alzheimer’s.2 Again, YOU know your older loved one the best. Poor judgment, changes in mood, and forgetfulness should not be dismissed as the consequences of aging; rather, such signs should be red flags that peak your awareness and care.
“Wait, these are the early symptoms? Are there any more I should watch out for?”
Staying true to the Two M’s, seniors that transition into the middle stage may experience the above symptoms, but to a worse degree. Confusion and disorientation, repetitive or impulsive behavior, and frequent mood swings are major symptoms. Outside of memory and mood, problems with speech, sleep, paranoia, and even hallucinations can accompany this stage of the progressive disease as well.
What are the Major Signs That My Loved One is Hiding Symptoms?
- Forgetting. Perhaps the greatest and most telling symptom of early Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness. Due to the nature of such a symptom, it also is one of the easiest to hide from family. Is an older loved one forgetting the current day or struggling to keep up with a conversation? Did they forget a birthday? What about more serious actions, like forgetting to pay a bill or leaving the stove on after supper? In order to compensate for forgetting, individuals with early Alzheimer’s may actually begin to engage in hoarding – the collection of things with little to no value – in order to keep track of objects, make them feel more secure, and deal with misplacing things and losing memories.4 Whichever memory lapse may be the case, your loved one will probably minimize the scope or impact of their forgetfulness – which plays directly into the next major sign: covering up.
- Covering-up. Senior adults, especially if they have a spouse, wish to remain independent. Dignity plays a large role in the lives of many senior adults, which means that hiding medical effects, especially ones associated with Alzheimer’s, is an attempt to prevent embarrassment and retain autonomy.3 Even more so, seniors will often go to great lengths to cover-up symptoms to prevent worry and alarm on behalf of their family. Are mom and dad limiting their visits to family and friends? Has an older loved one began to isolate themselves? Withdrawing from social and family events lowers the chances of symptoms being displayed and prevents the older loved one from experiencing confusion, thus preventing an embarrassing moment from occurring and preventing family from witnessing symptoms. This form of coverup can become habitual, going so far as to seep into the passions and interests of your loved one resulting in a refusal to commit to individual, family, or social activities.
- Denial. The above signs are not fun to discuss, yet are necessary when dealing with a serious disease like Alzheimer’s. Your older loved one may immediately resort to denial, or fall back on it when confronted by the above two signs. While a completely normal response, denial nevertheless makes up the third major sign that a loved one is covering up symptoms. An extremely common phrase used by older adults is to declare that they had a “senior moment” when displaying symptoms. Self-reporting that they are “tired” or “stressed” may very well be true, but may also be telling signs of denial to downplay serious, routine symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
What do I do If I Notice These Signs? How do I Get Help?
Confronting an older loved one about Alzheimer’s does NOT need to be a depressing affair. As you already know, early detection is key. Remember, YOU know your older loved one the best and have the best insights into their personality. If the above signs begin to show, or if you witness numerous symptoms of the disease, it is vital to reach out to your loved one’s doctor to formalize diagnosis and treatment. If your loved one is still living independently, it may be time to have the talk about moving to a senior living community like Lumia in Mequon. Communities like Lumia specialize in memory care for seniors, a type of care that focuses on providing, “a safe, structured environment with set routines to lower stress for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia.”5 Different from assisted care homes, memory care communities like Lumia have specialized staff to assist seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s each day. These kinds of communities support the independent nature of your loved one, while supporting their treatments and assisting them with their symptoms. Further information can also be found based on your location. Visit your county Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) to find out more information and local services that may benefit your loved one. Remember, Alzheimer’s is a serious disease, but it can be managed. If an older loved one shows signs and symptoms, reach out for help and take it seriously.