A 2013 study published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that a significant number of older people who begin to notice memory problems do not discuss the problem with their doctor or family members.
Effective memory support is dependent upon prompt identification of the cause of cognitive loss and early intervention, and researchers expressed concerns that any senior living with new-onset memory loss who does not seek immediate help may be foregoing the opportunity to slow or reverse his or her symptoms.
Many seniors are afraid to seek help.
The CDC’s study surveyed older adults in 21 states; participants were asked about their memory and mental function and asked to report any recent changes they had noticed in their cognitive abilities, as well as the effects of those changes on their lifestyles. Of the participants in the survey, 13 percent of those 60 and older reported increasing problems with confusion and forgetfulness, and a third of those stated that their mental decline was causing challenges at work or home.
It’s easy to understand, then, why some seniors are afraid to mention their symptoms: they may fear losing their jobs, or be concerned that their families will seek to usurp authority to make decisions for them. According to the CDC, however, it is imperative that these patients do seek help immediately.
Seniors and their families shouldn’t fear diagnosis but inaction.
The CDC study found that only 35 percent of adults over 60 who experience new-onset cognitive dysfunction talk with their doctor about it. That hesitancy creates a potentially dangerous situation.
Not all memory loss or confusion is attributable to dementia — TIAs (so-called “mini-strokes”), adverse drug interactions, infections and even chemical, hormonal, or electrolyte imbalances can all cause memory loss in seniors. Memory loss due to these conditions is often partially, or even fully reversible if treated early. Getting out in front of the problem gives one’s doctor more time to diagnose the cause of the memory loss and to start a course of therapy. Conversely, unnecessary delays can work against a patient’s recovery and long-term outcome.
Dementia isn’t curable, but it is treatable.
Even if dementia is to blame for a person’s mental changes, quick detection and therapeutic response can hinder the advance of symptoms. The best recommended treatment for degenerative cognitive change is to directly stimulate the sufferer’s mind – physical activity, socialization and regular mental exercises (solving puzzles, listening to music, creating artwork, writing, etc.) have been shown to bemore effective for memory support if they are started early and is aggressively pursued. The more time lost to hesitation, the worse a person’s outcome is likely to be.
If you or your loved one is experiencing symptoms, don’t wait to seek treatment. Here are some of the important warning signs to look out for:
- Disorientation to place, person, or time.
- Repeatedly asking questions, even when those questions have recently been addressed and answered.
- Becoming lost in familiar places.
- Tremors or weakness.
- Loss of balance or poor coordination.
Remember that some of the symptoms of dementia are similar to those for acute conditions like strokes or heart attacks. Dementia usually comes on gradually. If any of the above symptoms come on suddenly—dizziness, “thunderclap” headaches, or any pain or tingling radiating in the arms, legs or neck—seek immediate medical attention.
You can stop seniors from suffering in silence.
Changes can be unfamiliar and scary for a senior living with memory loss. But by encouraging open communication with doctors and family, you can help improve the chances of a positive outcome.
Early detection offers more time to plan for future care when memory loss is caused by dementia,.
Help your loved one prepare by making sure that their treatment preferences have been clearly stated in a living will or advance directive and that a trusted family member or friend has been designated to make medical decisions.
If you know a senior who needs memory support, download our free guide to see what kind of eldercare services are available in Cincinnati.