We all misplace or forget things from time to time. And some people just aren’t great at remembering names, even though they recognize faces. It’s typically not anything to worry about. When memory loss begins to impact daily life, however, it might be something more serious. Spouses are often the first to recognize the small signs that something isn’t right with their partner.
Memory loss that impairs a person’s ability to carry on a conversation or stick to their daily routine may indicate an infection, a vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, or some form of dementia. While there are many types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
How Common Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s accounts for as many as 80% of all cases of dementia. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people in this country have Alzheimer’s. That number is expected to reach 14 million by 2050.
While many people know one of the classic signs of Alzheimer’s is forgetfulness, other red flags aren’t as well known. If you are concerned a spouse might be in the early stages of the disease, review this list of symptoms.
Recognizing Common Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Memory loss: This is the most commonly recognized sign of Alzheimer’s. An adult with the disease may initially have trouble recalling the information or names they’ve most recently learned. It could be a new neighbor’s name or the date of their hair appointment. A spouse might find themselves repeatedly answering the same questions as a result.
- Difficulty communicating: Another change that often occurs in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s is communication problems. A loss of verbal or written communication skills are two examples. Other communication struggles include calling objects by the wrong name and difficulty maintaining a conversation.
- Making mistakes with money: This is a common, but frequently missed, red flag. A person with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s may neglect to pay some bills while paying others several times. They are also more likely to fall victim to a financial scam or make purchases for expensive items they don’t need.
- Change in disposition: If an always happy and kind senior has become ill-tempered or overly suspicious, he or she likely needs further evaluation. While it might be caused by a different struggle, a change in disposition can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
- Avoiding people: When an older adult first begins to suspect something is wrong, they may not want to admit it. Some even try to hide it. Embarrassment or the fear of being “discovered” can cause them to avoid friends and loved ones. They may stop going to religious services or even skip family celebrations.
- Getting lost: Drivers who have Alzheimer’s disease often become lost going to or coming from familiar destinations. It’s one reason physicians suggest people with the disease avoid driving. If a spouse is taking longer to run errands or returns flustered, you might want to have a gentle discussion about it.
Accepting that a spouse may have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia can be difficult. It’s one reason families frequently delay talking about it. While the problem may be caused by another medical condition that mimics Alzheimer’s, such as a urinary tract infection, it’s important to have these concerns evaluated by a physician.
Heritage Memory Care Communities
Heritage is proud to be a leader in dementia care for seniors in Michigan and Indiana. From person-centered care to thoughtfully planned meals, our Specialized Dementia Care Communities are designed to support independence while also keeping residents safe. Call the community nearest you to learn more or schedule a private tour!
My career keeps me on the go and includes frequent moves to new cities. It’s always been fun for my parents to visit me and explore new destinations. In recent years, however, they’ve both slowed down quite a bit. Neither one is comfortable traveling far from their Michigan home anymore, and they both have chronic health conditions.
I’m struggling to help keep them safe and healthy from a distance. Do you have any suggestions for long-distance caregivers? Any advice would be much appreciated!
Offering Support to Aging Parents Long-Distance
In today’s transient society, this is a dilemma many families face. It’s common for adult children to be separated from aging parents by many miles. One advantage today’s long-distance caregivers have over those of the past is technology.
There are products and apps that can meet virtually any caregiving challenge, such as:
- Organizing information: Since you mentioned your parents have chronic health conditions, staying organized can be tough. Fortunately, apps like Caring Village and CareZone can help. Both digitally store medication lists, medical history, physician contact information, and more. You can also share access with friends and other family members who help your parents. That will make it easier to keep everyone in the loop.
- Managing medications: Mistakes with medication are a common reason seniors end up seeking treatment in a hospital emergency department. It can be a constant source of worry for loved ones, especially those who aren’t close enough to personally monitor compliance. Technology can help lower the risk for errors. For example, MedMinder is a medication management tool with many safety features. One option long-distance caregivers appreciate is receiving text alerts whenever a parent’s medication dose is missed.
- Assessing needs virtually: One form of technology many families grew accustomed to during the COVID-19 pandemic is video chat. Most used Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime to stay connected. As a long-distance caregiver, you can use video chat to enjoy a conversation with your parents while visually assessing how they are doing. Unintentional weight gain or loss, flushed cheeks, or a disheveled appearance can be early signs that something is wrong.
- Calling for help: Another tip is to invest in an emergency call alert system that each of your parents wears or keeps in a pocket at all times. In the event they experience a fall or other emergency, help can be summoned with the push of a button. Because many of these devices operate off of wireless technology, they can work wherever a senior is.
Create a Back-Up Care Plan
Another suggestion for long-distance caregivers is to create a back-up care plan. While your parents might be able to work together to handle tasks around the home now, emergencies occur. It’s a good idea to schedule a trip home so you can tour assisted living communities, talk with home care agencies, and meet with their doctor. Create a list of care providers that you like and could call if one of your parents needs more assistance.
With senior living communities all across Michigan, we hope you will put Heritage on your list of places to visit when you are in town!
My dad has been living alone for almost six years now. Until about two years ago, he was strong, active, and independent. Then he had a bad fall and his health has declined significantly. Because his house was built decades ago, it’s not a very supportive environment for a senior. I worry he will fall again.
After speaking with his nurse practitioner about options, it’s become obvious that he needs to move to an assisted living community. I know his nutrition and overall well-being will improve. However, I don’t know how to start this discussion with my dad.
Do you have any suggestions?
Tips to Start a Conversation about Assisted Living with a Parent
Great question! Adult children and even grandchildren frequently ask us for this advice. Loved ones want to ensure their family member has the care and support needed without hurting their feelings or pride.
A few tips that might be useful for having a productive discussion with your dad include:
- Using kind language: Try not to use forceful phrases like “you have to” or “you need to.” Instead, tell your parent that you are worried about them or that you are concerned about their health and safety. It will help them to be a part of the process rather than feel they are being forced into something. Your tone of voice matters, as does your body language.
- Bringing up assisted living indirectly: You can share stories about a friend whose parent has recently moved to an assisted living community. Talk about how they are thriving and how well it’s working out. By planting a seed and waiting a few days, your dad might have time to think about it in a positive way.
- Sharing your own fears: Telling a parent that it’s hard for you to see them struggle with age-related health issues is a great way to begin the conversation. So is sharing your worry that your dad will experience another fall when he is alone. You can then ease into discussing options like home care and assisted living. Don’t forget to highlight the many benefits of assisted living communities, such as healthy meals, activities, and access to caregivers around the clock.
Managing a Parent’s Resistance to Care
Just because you are ready to begin the conversation about assisted living with your dad doesn’t mean he is ready to listen. It’s not uncommon for older adults to become defensive when it comes to decisions about future care needs. Even when their health is declining, they still want to feel independent. Keep this in mind and don’t try to rush your dad unless you feel like his well-being is in danger.
I hope this helps, Kate! If you would like to visit one of our communities before you have this talk, one of our experienced team members will be happy to show you around and answer all of your questions.
You’ve likely heard that as we grow older, we require less sleep. Some people believe it’s why many seniors get up so darn early. But sleep experts disagree. Adults need between seven and nine hours of quality sleep each night no matter their age.
What does change, however, is the prevalence of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Research shows that as many as 50% of people over the age of 60 suffer from a sleep disorder. A senior might struggle to get a good night’s rest and give up trying. They eventually settle for a short night of less-than-ideal sleep. This may be the origin of the myth that older adults need less sleep.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a condition that causes people to have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Sleep occurs in several stages, starting with a light, dreamless slumber. It continues on to periods of active dreaming, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. As we age, these patterns often change. The amount of time you spend in each sleep stage can be disrupted. It can cause seniors to wake up frequently throughout the night or to awaken and be unable to fall back asleep.
A few common signs of insomnia are:
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Poor quality, non-restful sleep
- Waking up at least three times throughout the night
Why Seniors Often Experience Trouble Sleeping
Sleep disorders in seniors can be the result of a variety of medical issues, some of which can be treated. For example, certain health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, anxiety, depression, or sleep apnea can make quality sleep tougher to come by. Another factor might be chronic pain. Illnesses such as osteoarthritis or an autoimmune disease often cause persistent pain that makes a good night’s rest more challenging.
Environment might play a role, too. If a senior’s bedroom is too bright, warm, or noisy, it can interfere with rest. Then there is the possibility that poor sleep is a side effect of a medication. Beta blockers—a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and angina—are prescribed for many seniors and can increase the risk for insomnia.
Finally, a lack of exercise is another possibility. Too much sitting can make you feel tired and sluggish, but that doesn’t translate to good quality sleep. According to the National Library of Medicine, a lack of exercise is associated with insomnia at every age.
Ways to Beat Insomnia and Get a Good Night’s Rest
If you just aren’t able to consistently sleep well, a few suggestions include:
- Sticking with a routine: Routines provide structure. That helps both the mind and body. Try going to bed at night and getting up in the morning at the same time every day. Turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before heading to bed. Engaging in soothing activities that help you unwind, such as reading or taking a warm bath, might also work.
- Creating a peaceful environment: The bedroom should be a calm and peaceful place. It’s important to have a good mattress and soft sheets. Another tip for creating a relaxing sleep environment is to turn the thermostat down a bit overnight.
- Working out in the morning: While exercise is important and aids in promoting good sleep, it can raise your body’s core temperature and boost adrenaline. Try to work out in the morning or at least three hours before bedtime.
- Avoiding late-day naps: If you can avoid taking a daily nap altogether, that’s best. However, if you have to nap, do so earlier in the day. That helps prevent daytime shut-eye from interfering with your ability to fall asleep.
- Limiting stimulants: Caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants should be consumed in moderation and avoided completely later in the day. While they may not prevent you from falling asleep, they often cause people to wake up in the night and be unable to return to sleep.
- Clearing your mind: Try to deal with the worries of your day before getting into bed. Quiet the mind and focus on peaceful thoughts. Meditation, journaling, stretching, and other activities that promote emotional resilience can be beneficial.
If your best efforts at getting a good night’s rest don’t yield results, it’s likely time to see the doctor. They might be able to figure out the root cause or schedule an overnight sleep study.
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