What Changes Could I See?
Complaints of memory loss and confusion are not normal.
Certain forgetfulness in the elderly warrants concern. While we all misplace the keys occasionally, some elderly men and women exhibit more unusual behavior. For example, if an elder becomes lost in a familiar place, puts objects away in unusual places (keys in the freezer), forgets to take medication or changes clothes infrequently. Such pronounced forgetfulness, confusion and lapses in judgment that result in obvious difficulty managing daily life are not normal and should be evaluated by the elder's physician. A medical problem may be to blame for the elder's confusion or memory loss. A physician will examine for underlying problems--which could include a mini-stroke, respiratory or urinary tract infection, drug interaction or toxicity, depression or lingering affects of anesthesia--as well as establish a baseline of cognitive functioning so as to evaluate possible future decline, which could indicate a progressing form a dementia. An elder who is not taking their medication or taking incorrect dosages may further increase their confusion or short-term memory loss. This can cause serious problems leading to a downward spiral. Anxiety and nervousness could be observed in elders struggling with mental changes. Be observant!
CHANGES IN BALANCE
Falls are the leading cause for nursing home placement.
Taking simple safety measures can prevent accidental falls among elders. For example, be certain that scatter rugs are secured and all stairways have handrails. But falls also may be the result of conditions that make the elder feel lightheaded or faint, requiring medical diagnosis and treatment. In fact, falling has many possible causes, including heart problems, overuse of sedative, osteoporosis or abuse of alcohol or drugs. Without treatment, the elder is likely to fall again, possibly with severe consequences. Falls are the leading cause of disability for elders and frequently lead to nursing home placement.
CHANGES IN EATING HABITS
Loss of appetite and weight in aging adults
An elder who experience appetite changes (in particular, the loss of appetite or interest in eating accompanied by significant weight loss) may face a serious problem. Good nutrition is essential for health at any age and is especially important for elders who may be stressed by illness and lack the reserves that younger people usually have. Caregivers should check the elder’s refrigerator and pantry if you think there may be problem. Is there enough food? A healthy variety? Do the same items remain on the shelves day after day? Consider if the elder may have pain with eating (caused by indigestion or ill-fitting dentures), or is forgetting to eat. Diminished appetite may indicate pain, worsening heart failure, depression, dementia or the beginnings of pneumonia.
CHANGES IN MEDICAL CONDITIONS
Too many medications and doctors
An elder who has pain, incontinence, dizziness or loss of functioning may be exhibiting symptoms of serious conditions which may be treatable. Caregivers should never ignore these signals. Take the elder to his or her physician to explore possible causes and treatments. For example, many people dismiss incontinence as an unpleasant result of aging, yet it often has reversible causes, like a urinary tract infection or metabolic abnormality. At this point, when general medical instability becomes a problem, it is helpful to seek out a geriatrician to act as the elder’s primary care physician. Geriatricians are trained to look at the aging patient as a whole and can coordinate treatment when several specialists are involved. Sometimes treatment for one problem may worsen another and the geriatrician can help caregivers adjust medications so that this difficulty is minimized for the elder.