Senior moments or dementia? How to tell the difference


By Angela Rocheleau

Have you ever been carrying on a conversation and suddenly you can’t remember the name of your best friend, the movie you saw last night, or even what you were just going to say? A new Mayo clinic study of more than 2,000 men and women over 70 found that most were likely to suffer from mild cognitive impairment including a lapse of memory… better known as a senior moment. It’s a sudden, embarrassing slice of silence. Men are almost 50 percent more likely than women to experience these awkward interludes. But senior moments should not be cause for alarm as long as they are infrequent.

Here are some points to help you remember:

•Keep lists.

•Follow a routine.

•Make associations (connect things in your mind), such as using landmarks to help you find places.

•Keep a detailed calendar.

•Put important items, such as your keys, in the same place every time.

•Repeat names when you meet new people.

•Do things that keep your mind and body busy.

•Run through the ABC’s in your head to help you think of words you’re having trouble remembering. “Hearing” the first letter of a word may jog your memory.

If you are noticing consistent memory loss in yourself or your loved one, you should pay closer attention to the symptoms and not laugh them off as senior moments as they could be early signs of dementia. Symptoms of dementia may be very obvious, or they may be very subtle and go unrecognized for some time.

The first sign of dementia is usually loss of short-term memory. The person repeats what he just said or may forget where she put an object just a few minutes ago.

Other examples of early warning signs include subtle changes in communication that may involve struggles to recall the right words while discussing or explaining a thought or idea, or having difficulty understanding what is said when trying to follow a story.

Another symptom is having difficulties with basic thinking functions. These functions include: activities with numbers, understanding what others say, planning an activity and doing it, or prioritizing steps.

The key symptoms to look for are repeated changes that reflect behaviors or abilities that differ from what is typical for that specific person. Repeated experiences, where there are changes in the ability to remember, communicate, or to do functions that require thinking are signs of early dementia as well.

A medical exam as soon as possible is very important, because the doctor might be able to slow down the health changes leading to these specific problems.

If it’s a family member you can help too:

•Be extra loving and patient with someone who may be showing symptoms of dementia, even if he or she is moody and irritable. Please remember this person may be frustrated with him or herself, and will almost certainly be frightened by these symptoms.

•People suffering from dementia often retain memories from long ago, but lose more recent memories. Spend time talking with them about the things they do remember, and don’t take it personally if they forget who you are, or where they are.

After medical help, contacting a professional home health agency to arrange for companionship and home assistance may be the next step in providing care for your loved one.

Angela Rocheleau has 25 years of experience in the home health care industry focusing on leadership roles for the past two decades. She serves on the Better Business Bureau board of Central New England and the Executive Board of the Mass Council for Home Care Aides.