Is it Normal Aging or Dementia?
They’ve been married forever.
I hear that a lot from families. They may not know the exact date their parents were married, but they know it’s been forever! By this they mean their parents work as a unit, and friends and family members are used to this interaction. This ability to work as a team is a wonderful thing until one of the team isn’t functioning well and the other is in denial. When couples cover up for each other, precious time can be lost.
When should children act?
Healthy aging brings with it some losses, but if seniors have a mate, they often can live independently for a longer time as they fill in the gaps for each other. Dad’s eyes aren’t that great anymore, but Mom coaches him and he does okay. Or Mom’s driving is questionable, but Dad does most of the driving when they are in high traffic areas.
Teasing apart a decades-long team effort to present a united face of viable functioning to the world isn’t easy, but careful observance can generally penetrate their act.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, examines this issue. Rosenblatt writes that action should be taken even if a dementia diagnosis isn’t made by a physician. In her article she says, “Here’s what’s important: it doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosis for your aging parent or not. It matters how your aging parent functions. It matters how you deal with what you see…If your aging parent or loved one is showing persistent memory loss and starting to mess up the basics of life, it’s a warning you should not ignore…”
Changes in behavior are the key
The key to dementia is often in the changes we observe in our elders. Using the example above of Mom’s driving, what is important is the change in her functioning. With normal aging, our reflexes aren’t as quick, our eyesight isn’t as keen, and we may avoid some of these situations more than when we were younger. However, if Mom is avoiding driving because she gets lost even in familiar territory, she is showing signs of possible dementia.
If Dad, who made a living as a businessman, often crunching numbers in his work and also ran the family finances with precision and accuracy, is making a lot of financial errors, something may be wrong. Suddenly, or so it seems to his family, he’s late paying bills or he over-draws the checking account. This could be a sign of stress, or maybe his medications are affecting his ability to think well. It could be a sign of an infection in his system. Or it could be a sign that he is developing dementia. Only a complete checkup by a skilled specialist is likely to give you an answer.