A Caregiver’s Guide: Early Signs of Memory Loss

As a senior ages, they will likely become more forgetful. 

The brain shrinks and slows with age, meaning your loved one’s skills and cognitive functioning will decline. So losing one’s keys on occasion or forgetting an important date is to be expected.

There isn’t much cause for concern unless your senior loved one struggles to complete daily tasks, shows signs of confusion, and is undergoing behavioral and personality changes. 

If you’re worried about your senior’s well-being and health, it is always best to schedule an appointment with their physician. Early detection matters, as it can get your loved one a proper diagnosis and the help they need. 

Depending on your senior’s degree of memory loss, multiple treatment options and living arrangement options are available. 

As their caregiver, you will need to consider what is best for your loved one and yourself. While being a caregiver is a rewarding job, it can also be overwhelming and exhausting. 

Let’s look at the early signs of memory loss, common causes, and how you can provide the best care for your senior. 

Common causes of memory loss

Aside from the minimal amount of memory loss that comes with aging, there is an extensive list of causes of memory loss. 

The most common causes of memory loss include the following:

Alzheimer’s or dementia

Progressive damage to brain cells leads to abnormal brain changes that cause a decline in memory, cognitive functioning, and communication. This may impact behavior, moods, relationships, and daily functioning. 

With Lewy body dementia, microscopic deposits of protein clump together in the brain, affecting a senior’s ability to think, reason, move and think.

Currently, there are no medications or treatments available to cure these neurodegenerative diseases, but they may still lessen the symptoms. 

Head injury

A fall, blow to the head, or another traumatic event that leads to a head injury may result in a concussion. Some head injuries may be minor and only cause short-term memory loss, while major head injuries or repeated injuries may result in progressive memory loss and cognitive problems.

Medications

Before assuming the worst, check your senior’s medicine cabinet. The following drugs may cause memory loss: 

  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Cholesterol drugs
  • Antiseizure drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • Narcotic painkillers
  • Parkinson’s drugs
  • Hypertension drugs 
  • Sleeping pills 
  • Incontinence drugs
  • Antihistamines

Remember to bring a list of all the medications your senior is taking to their physician.

Alcohol

Heavy drinkers are susceptible to memory loss and at risk of dementia. If your senior is a drinker, helping them quit can stop or slow their memory loss. 

Infections of the brain

Diseases like HIV and herpes can cause inflammation in the brain and infect brain cells, leading to memory loss. Tuberculosis is another virus that can put nerve cells at risk without prompt treatment.

Stroke

Memory loss after a stroke may improve over time with rehabilitation and medication. Though memory loss that worsens and does not improve after 3-6 months, it is often related to a stroke survivor’s medication. 

Mental health issues

Traumatic events, anxiety, and depression may cause some minor memory loss and difficulty concentrating. These issues are also found in adults with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. 

Nutritional deficiencies

Not enough vitamin B1 (thiamin) or B12 can lead to memory loss. It is normal for seniors’ levels of vitamin B12 to decline naturally. If their blood results show low levels, taking vitamins may help. 

Thyroid issues

Short-term memory loss can occur when thyroid levels are too high (hyperthyroidism) or too low (hypothyroidism). If treated early enough, your senior’s memory loss could be reversible if this is the cause. 

5 early signs of memory loss

Memory lapses are common in older adults, so don’t worry if this is happening to your senior loved one. If you pay attention, you will notice you have memory lapses of your own.

But when these occurrences become more frequent, it’s time to get proactive about their care. 

The 5 most common early signs of memory loss: 

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life

Your senior may forget to bathe, brush their hair, wash their clothing, take medication, and even forget the name of their pet. 

  1. Frequent confusion

Seniors with memory loss will forget times and dates and the names of places and people they care about. They may go to the grocery store and forget what they went in for.

  1. Repetition 

During a conversation with your senior, they may ask you many times the same question you have answered. It is also common for seniors to repeat daily tasks like brushing their teeth or shaving and collecting items obsessively. 

  1. Mood, personality, and behavioral changes

If your senior loved one is usually calm, quiet, and cheerful, and suddenly becomes aggressive, agitated, and depressed, something is wrong. 

  1. Getting lost in familiar areas

One of the scariest signs of memory loss is wandering and getting lost. Your senior may feel scared, overwhelmed, and confused when this happens to them. 

Examination and testing

After consulting with your senior loved one’s doctor, it may be determined what type of memory loss your senior has and what is causing it. 

Typically, a physician will complete your loved one’s medical history during their medical exam, ask them questions about their memory loss, any physical symptoms, and perform a physical exam. 

If the physician believes your senior’s memory loss is serious, they will likely refer them to a neurologist, geriatrician, or mental health professional. By referring your senior loved one to a specialist, they can receive additional testing. 

Common tests include: 

  • Blood tests 
    • Can check for vitamin deficiencies, like B12, and thyroid disease
  • Cerebral angiography 
    • An X-ray to see how blood flows through the brain
  • Cognitive testing
    • Tests your thinking abilities
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
    • To measure the electrical activity of the brain
  • Imaging tests
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
    • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Spinal tap

Options after diagnosis

Once your senior loved one is diagnosed, you need to determine their best living situation. While most seniors would love to age at home, this is not always beneficial or safe. 

Caregiver

Depending on the cause and severity of your senior’s memory loss, you may still be able to take care of them.  If their memory loss is short-term and they need minimal care, this could be the choice you’re looking for. 

In-home care

For seniors who need more care than you can provide and who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, you could hire in-home care. 

This option could take some of the weight off of your shoulders, as there would be another person to help with cooking, cleaning, and bathing. It is also a beneficial choice for seniors that require medical services, such as injections, wound care, and physical therapy.  

Community setting

Eventually, most seniors will need more medical care, assistance, and security,  than what can be provided in their homes. This is when it is best to transition them to a safe, comfortable, and loving memory care community. 

Memory care community The Kensington Reston

At The Kensington Reston, we provide two cozy memory care neighborhoods, Connections and Haven. Each neighborhood has been designed and specifically tailored for each resident based on their individual needs. 

It can be a sad and overwhelming time when you learn that your senior loved one has dementia. You may even feel hesitant about transitioning them over to an assisted living or memory care community, but the move will benefit both you and your senior. 

Our staff is compassionate, knowledgeable, and understands how important your senior loved one’s health and quality of life are to you. This is why it is Our Promise to care for and love your family as we do our own. To learn more about our comfortable, safe, and beautiful communities, reach out to us at any time.

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