Dementia Symptoms in Your Elderly Parents: What to Watch For

Dementia Symptoms in Your Elderly Parents: What to Watch For

Dementia Symptoms in Your Elderly Parents: What to Watch For

No one knows your parents’ personalities, hobbies, or quirks like you do. If you notice unusual behavior, or experience a persistent feeling that something is off, there’s a good chance it is. Aging is a well-known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In fact, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles every five years in people 65 and older.

Learning to spot key dementia symptoms in aging parents and documenting the early stages of dementia can make a big difference. Your observations could provide helpful insight to doctors, which can lead to a quicker and more accurate diagnosis. 

The warning signs may vary by individual, but the following eight dementia behaviors are indicators for you to watch for.

1. Difficulty remembering or trouble finding words

It’s normal for older adults to have lapses in thought here and there. But showing signs of forgetfulness every day is an early warning sign of dementia. If your mom is consistently losing track of her thoughts mid-sentence, or if your dad has trouble finding words in casual conversations, these are dementia signs to note.

2. Inability to learn something new

If your mom’s favorite activity is cooking, but she’s struggling to use a new appliance or follow a new recipe, dementia may be the culprit. If you notice your parents avoiding new activities or struggling to grasp a new concept, make note of it.

3. Struggling to manage finances

Do you notice your dad failing to properly manage bills or taxes? Does your mom struggle to balance her checkbook? Watch for bills piling up or other problem-solving skills diminishing as these are common behaviors of dementia.

4. Losing track of time

If your elderly parent continues to forget the day, month, year, holidays, or other important dates, this is a red flag. Write down what they forget and how often the lapses occur.

5. Poor judgment and decision-making

Have you noticed any behaviors or situations that seem out of the ordinary? For example, has your mom been spending more money than normal? Has your dad stopped wearing his seatbelt? If you begin to notice dangerous behavior or unsafe habits, write it down and talk to your parent’s doctor.

6. Problems remembering commitments

Reoccurring memory loss is an early sign of dementia. Everyone forgets something occasionally, but if it happens regularly, be sure to document when and how often.

For example, take note if your parents regularly forget:

      • Dentist or doctor’s appointments
      • Dinner plans with friends and family
      • Maintenance appointments for the car

7. Losing interest in favorite activities

Has your loved one stopped pursuing or lost interest in their favorite hobbies? Did your mom read or garden daily but no longer makes an effort? Pay attention to unusual behaviors especially if it doesn’t seem related to a physical health problem.

8. Repeating themselves

Have you noticed verbal repetition in your parent’s thoughts or phrases? It can be as simple as saying the same compliment over and over, such as, “I really love those picture frames you gave me.”

If your parent repeats stories, questions, thoughts, or jokes daily, or every other day, be sure to note the frequency.

Physical signs of dementia in elderly relatives

In addition to the eight major dementia symptoms above, many seniors will exhibit physical signs of cognitive decline. Some warning signs of cognitive. Some warning behaviors include:

      • Agitation – Mood changes that include confusion, irritability, depression, or anxiety are common in people with dementia. Your parent may become easily upset in different or new situations.
      • Wandering – People with dementia sometimes get lost in familiar places or walk aimlessly. Dementia wandering can happen for many reasons, including fear, anxiety, boredom, or an urge to follow past routines.
      • Sleep problems – Insomnia and sundown syndrome are common problems in people with dementia. Your parent may have problems falling asleep, or they may wake up several times throughout the night. They may also feel more restless at the end of the day which is often attributed to a condition call “sundowning.” Doctors believe sundowning can be triggered by exhaustion, excitement, or changes in the biological clocks of people with dementia. Managing sleep is an important aspect of taking care of elderly parents with dementia.
      • Eating problems – Your parent may forget to eat or drink. Medications to treat dementia symptoms can also affect your loved one’s appetite or interfere with food taste. Ensuring your loved one with dementia gets adequate fluids and nutrition can be a challenge.
      • Incontinence – As dementia progresses, your loved one may lose bladder and bowel control. Changes in environment may also lead to accidents because someone with dementia may not be able to find the bathroom or get there in time.

Document and share dementia behaviors with a doctor

Track signs of dementia using your phone or a journal. It’s important to share specific examples with a doctor.

If you’re worried about upsetting a loved one, submit your observations to their physician privately in writing. Keep in mind that HIPAA authorization is not needed for you to share concerns with a parent’s health professional.

Include details about:

      • When you first noticed dementia behavior
      • Specific dementia symptoms your parents are exhibiting
      • How often they struggle and when it happens
      • Changes in their normal routine or behavior

How to get help for your parents’ dementia symptoms

It’s important to find professional help after noticing early symptoms of dementia. 

        1. Find the right doctor – Doctors specializing in dementia will ask about problems related to common dementia behaviors. You should look for a physician whose specialty is geriatrics, neurology, or clinical psychiatry.
        2. Communicate observations in detail – The more details you can share regarding warning signs of dementia, the easier it can be for a doctor to determine the cause and tests needed for a diagnosis. The doctor can also develop more effective treatment options for dementia symptoms based on the specificity of the data collected.
        3. Prepare for a diagnosis – Dementia diagnoses are determined through a series of steps. There are many different possible tests to rule out other health conditions like a vitamin B12 deficiency, brain tumors, thyroid conditions, and more, as some of these conditions also may cause dementia symptoms. A dementia evaluation can include:
      • Reviewing a person’s medical history
      • Physical or mental exam
      • Lab tests
      • Brain imaging

4. Stay proactive – Continue to observe and take notes to help you and medical professionals determine the best care and treatment options for your mom or dad.

Myths About Assisted Living

Myths About Assisted Living

Is a “retirement community” or “assisted living” the same as a “nursing home?” Learn the truth about assisted living and debunk some common senior living myths.

MYTH #1:

“Assisted Living” is just another way to say “nursing home.”

TRUTH:

This is one of the most common misunderstandings about senior living, but in reality, the two differ significantly. Assisted living communities provide housing and care to seniors who may need some help with daily tasks, but do not require the skilled care provided at a nursing home. They typically feature:

  • Individual apartments that residents can decorate and lock, just as they would a private apartment
  • 24/7 staff to help with activities of daily living, including medication management and personal hygiene
  • Three meals a day
  • Transportation, housekeeping, and laundry services

Some assisted living communities offer additional medical and memory care services. This varies by state and community, and in some cases, can allow couples to live in the same community despite needing different levels of care.

Nursing homes are designed for people who need the highest level of care and require help with nearly all of their daily living tasks. These facilities typically feature:

  • Private or shared rooms
  • Rehabilitative care, including surgical and medical recovery
  • Assistance with many activities of daily living, such as feeding, toileting, and getting in and out of bed

MYTH #2:

My mom or dad won’t like living in assisted living.

TRUTH:

A recent study reports that 73% of families thought their senior loved one’s quality of life improved after moving to assisted living. Additionally, 60% of caregivers found that their personal quality of life improved. Many seniors fear losing their independence and privacy. It’s helpful to know most communities provide residents with a choice of spacious apartments with different floor plans and separate entrances. People are free to furnish their apartments with their own furniture and personal items. As in private life, apartment doors lock and are controlled by residents.

MYTH #3:

Family can, and should, care for their elders

TRUTH:

While caregiving sometimes brings joy and strengthens relationships, it can also affect the caregiver’s ability to work, engage in social interactions and relationship, and maintain good physical and mental health. Data from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) suggests caregivers often neglect their own health needs and suffer from the emotional and physical demands of caregiving. This, in turn, affects their ability to provide care. More than a third of caregivers report insufficient sleep, according to the CDC. Just as you expect a high quality of life for your parent or elderly loved one, you should expect the same for yourself. Choosing assisted living could result in a happier, healthier life for both of you.

MYTH #4:

The cost of assisted living is too high.

TRUTH:

Assisted living is often the same or less than receiving the same care and services at home. Currently, the median monthly cost for assisted living in the United States is $4,051.00. While that cost may seem high, it includes everything many seniors need such as meals, transportation, activities, help with day-to-day tasks, medication management, and more.

MYTH #5:

The food is bland and the activities are boring.

TRUTH:

Senior living communities are responding to people’s preferences for fine dining and high-tech fun. With the Baby Boomer generation entering senior living, many assisted living communities are changing to reflect a more demanding consumer. As for meals, dining options look more like restaurants, and less like buffet lines.

What if Mom or Dad Don’t Want to Move to Senior Living?

What if Mom or Dad Don’t Want to Move to Senior Living?

Change is challenging…especially as you age. Many of our parents have been in their own home for years, and the idea of this change in particular can cause anxiety and an abrupt objection. However, the best time to have the conversation with aging parents is before a crisis happens, so these changes can be made on their terms as much as possible.

The following information offers suggestions on how you can make the conversation easier.

Where do you start?

One of the biggest reasons the idea of moving to a senior living environment can be scary, is that it is a huge change. Break down the thought process, and you’ll be sure to see better results. Start with a simple question like, “What are your biggest daily struggles?” Ask them how you can help. Focus on the little things that are making life at home less than ideal.

Don’t forget who’s boss. Few people respond well when someone starts a tough conversation with commands like, “You need to…” or “You should…” Remember that they still see themselves as your parent you are their child, no matter how old you are.

If the conversation is going well…great! Consider moving to next steps. But, if you are starting the conversation early enough, you can simply ‘plant the seed’ by discussing needs and short-comings of home life. Then, after your parent has had time to think about it and even experience these short-comings more, re-approach the conversation. Unless there is an immediate need or you are concerned that your parent is not safe, the slower approach can yield more success.

Take it to the Next Step – What’s the Cost?

So your parents have warmed to the idea. Now it’s time to talk about their home in the context of real estate. Ask if they’ve thought about selling their home and using the equity to move into a place that would be more comfortable and have lower or no maintenance.

If they’re open to considering a sale, there are lots of great resources where you can help them understand what their home may be worth. Consider looking at home estimates on websites like Zillow, Trulia, or Realtor.com.

This is also a great opportunity to do a cost comparison of life at home versus life at a senior living community. The difference may surprise you. With your parents’ help, list their home-related expenses like utilities, property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Comparing this list to the cost of senior living, which is typically inclusive of all these things, it’s hard to argue with the data.

The Classic provides an easy Cost Calculator tool for accomplishing this exercise. Click here: https://theclassichg.com/cost-calculator/.

Senior living is a smart choice! If you can show your parents that selling their home and moving into a full-service senior living community will ultimately save them money, that may help ease their anxieties.

Sometimes this basic cost comparison isn’t enough. You may also need to do a little investigating into the expense of solving some of the challenges within your parent’s home to illustrate your willingness to consider their home as an option, as well as show them how costly these ‘fixes’ can be. Consider researching things like:

  • Non-skid flooring and removing slippery rugs
  • Installation of grab bars in bathrooms which can hurt re-sale!
  • Medical alert and security alarms monthly subscriptions can add up and fees associated with their help can escalate quickly!
  • Outside ramps, if stairs become difficult to navigate this can also negatively affect re-sale.
  • Handrails along stairs, hallways
  • Motion-activated, bright lighting in hallways, closets, and stairwells
  • Wider doorways to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers
  • Stair climbers
  • Walk-in bathtub/non-slip shower
  • Security cameras

Get a Professional’s Input

Perhaps you don’t have the luxury of an early conversation, and your parents are in danger of falling or you have serious concerns about their abilities to care for themselves. It may be time to enlist the help of third-party professionals.

If costs are still an objection, an accountant or financial advisor can help them understand the costs and expenses associated with staying where they are versus selling their home and using the equity to enjoy the rest of their lives in a senior living community. Sometimes hearing this from someone that isn’t their child is all it takes.

You care for your parents, and you likely already know what professionals they use for their healthcare. Ask their doctor to talk to your parents about their long-term needs and what to expect if they have medical conditions that may come with mobility or memory issues. Chances are they have trusted their doctor for quite some time, so they may place more trust in the doctor’s assessment of their need for change than yours.

Don’t forget about asking a friend for assistance. You may have friends whose parents have sold their homes and moved to senior living communities, so ask how it went and what they did. Invite them to share their stories. And don’t forget your parents’ own friends who may already transitioned to senior living. Sometimes hearing someone else’s story about making such a big change so late in life can be comforting.

Overcome Fears by Scheduling a Tour

Sometimes, the best way to overcome objections is to see life at a community for yourself. Visiting a community will show them what a ‘day in the life’ is really like. They may even encounter an old friend who’s living there now. Showing them the chance of renewed friendships, and even the ability to make new ones, can go a long way in helping the decision process.

Be prepared for each tour with a list of questions and a checklist of features to evaluate. Talk to the community’s staff about costs and what the living fees include. Your parents may be pleasantly surprised at all the amenities and perks that come with senior living.

If All Else Fails, Have an Aging Plan in Place

So if you’ve exhausted your efforts to convince them to move and your parents aren’t in dire need or are still objecting to the change, then work with them to make an aging plan so that when and if something does happen, and they need care, you’ve got a plan in place.

  • Get a medical alert system. Look for a system that has a fall alert sensor. New technologies you may already have in your home can also help your parents. Explore options with smart speakers from Amazon Echo and Google Home. These devices have apps that can help seniors with things like medication reminders, daily routines, turning lights on and off and calling friends and family.
  • List all medications. Write down all medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter, including dosages, prescribing doctor and frequency and put the list in a place where your parents and you can easily access it. Make sure you have the list backed up in case it gets misplaced, or you need it quickly in an emergency.
  • Note allergies. Along with the list of medications, including any food, medication, or other allergies, such as latex or adhesives.
  • Write and display a community DNR. What’s a community DNR? If your parents have a do-not-resuscitate order, does it apply to medical emergencies that happen in the community, outside a hospital or healthcare setting? If not, make sure it does.

Plan to check in on your parents more regularly. Consider planning a daily call with them. And when you do speak with them, pay attention to how they’re speaking. Have they repeated the same story over and over? Can they follow their train of thought? Are they slurring? Changes like these can indicate health problems and should be addressed immediately.

Tips for Transitioning to Senior Living

Tips for Transitioning to Senior Living

When your loved one has lived in their own home for years, transitioning to a senior living community can be intimidating. More often than not, it’s one of the biggest adjustments a senior will make in their older years. There’s no way to completely remove the worries and anxieties that come with this move. However, there are some guiding steps you can take to help ease the transition for both you and your loved one.

Getting Prepared: Before the Move

Once you and your loved one have decided it’s time to transition to senior living, there are several steps you should take to prepare.

  • Choose the right community.

Take the time to research and tour multiple senior living communities in the geographic area you are planning to move to. This will help you get a sense of the social environment, dining, amenities, and overall feel of each location. It’s best to start researching early on before you have an immediate need to move, since you’ll be able to take your time more with the decision. When you visit a community, you should get the opportunity to ask their leadership, caregivers, and staff any questions you may have. Be observant of the level of cleanliness, friendliness of staff and whether residents seem content in their environment. When in doubt, trust your intuition.

  • Research senior living costs.

When making your decision, be sure to get a clear understanding of each community’s pricing model. Some communities will offer true, all-inclusive pricing, which means there is a single monthly fee that covers everything. Many others will offer “levels of care pricing,” which is a tier-based program with costs that vary based on the type of care your loved one receives.

  • After choosing a community, arrange a time to visit or tour it a least one more time before moving in.

After deciding on a community, it doesn’t hurt to get even more familiar with it before moving in. If you have time for another visit, use the opportunity to explore the campus, speak with current residents, participate in a community social event, or enjoy a meal in the restaurant. Be sure to arrange visits with your community ahead of time, as this will allow them to plan an agenda for while you are there.

  • Pack efficiently and deliberately.

First and foremost, check with your community to see if they offer packing services. Getting help with this process will go a long way in smoothing the transition to senior living. When packing, prioritize the most important items first, and don’t stress about doing everything right away. Creating lists to keep the process organized will save time. Start with essential items like toiletries, medications, clothing, bedding, and furniture. After the big things are taken care of, move onto smaller items that may still be important but are stuffed away in the garage or attic. If you approach packing in a step-by-step manner, without rushing it, the task becomes bar less intimidating.

  • Make sure all logistical and “housekeeping” items are taken care of.

Any time you make a move, whether to senior living or somewhere else, there are logistical items that need to be taken care of. Make a plan to cancel ongoing services like cable, internet, and utilities that will be provided at your loved one’s new community. Contact the postal service to have mail forwarded from their old home to their community address, and have their address updated on credit cards, bank accounts, magazine subscriptions and anywhere else it might be listed. Last, but not least, keep a record of all moving expenses as they are tax deductible.

  • Allow time for the “emotional transition.”

No matter how prepared you or your loved one is for a move to senior living, there still may be fears and apprehensions. No one is completely ready for this type of move, so feelings like these are completely normal. Take advantage of social circles for support, whether they be family, friends, spiritual guides, online resources, or elsewhere. Talking through your fears is a great way to overcome them. Our most important piece of advice is to be patient. Everyone has a different timeline for their emotional transition, and that’s okay.

  • Set up your loved one’s new living space.

One of the best ways to make your loved one feel at home is to make their new living space feel familiar. Arrange furniture and decorations in a similar fashion as they were in the previous home. Display sentimental items prominently since these little things can go a long way. Taking time to create a functional and aesthetically pleasing living space will go a long way in smoothing the transition to your new home.

Getting Acclimated: The First Week and Beyond

Getting adjusted to senior living doesn’t happen overnight. From the first day through the first week, your loved one will be very busy at their new community. Here are some tips on how they can make the most of their initial days in senior living:

  • Get acquainted with neighbors.

Your loved one will likely be living in an apartment with several neighbors in their hallway, on their floor, or even right next door. Each person they meet has the potential to become a new friend. Encourage your loved one to introduce themselves to as many people as possible. Other residents have gone through the same transition period and they can serve as a fantastic resources and support network.

  • Familiarize yourself with community caregivers and staff.

During the first week, your loved one will get acquainted with several staff members at the community. For those at an assisted living level of care, this includes meetings with caregivers to assess their need and create a care plan. They will also meet with nurses, dining staff, and activity staff along with others on the community leadership team. The job of the community staff is to make sure your loved one feels comfortable, so don’t hesitate to bring up questions you have for them at any time.

  • Spend time with loved ones.

Now that the majority of COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed, be sure to visit your loved one regularly, or as often as possible. This is especially important during their first weeks at the community, since it will help them get adjusted to their new surroundings without feeling abandoned. Try to come with a consistent schedule for visiting if you can. Sharing a meal is a great way to spend time whenever you visit. Most communities offer a range of dining options from dine-in to take-out, so check and see what’s available.

  • Get involved in community events and activities.

One of the major benefits of senior living communities is the social programming they offer. Make sure your loved one gets a copy of the community’s activity calendar and speaks with other residents about their favorite activities. Attending social events early on provides a great opportunity to learn about what’s available and get to know other residents. Over time, they will discover which activities are their favorites and have new things to look forward to on a regular basis.

  • Dine with other residents and members of staff.

More often than not, the dining room is the center of socialization in a senior living setting. Encourage your loved one to schedule meals with their new neighbors and connect with other residents during meals. Members of community staff are often glad to share a meal as well, and they have the potential to become great friends.

  • Get involved in a group.

Most senior living communities have special groups focused on specific hobbies, interests, or values. Examples might be a playing cards group, gardening club, book club, bible study, or resident council. Your loved one should speak with the community’s life enrichment director as well as other members to discover what’s out there and see what they might be interested in joining.

  • Take advantage of fitness opportunities.

Maintaining your loved one’s overall wellness is important, and their physical health should be taken into consideration. Most communities have activities that engage the residents in recreational activities, so encourage your loved one to participate. Staying active is not only good for their physical health, but it can help them feel more mentally sharp, happy, and upbeat.

  • Stay involved in life outside the community.

Joining a senior living community doesn’t mean your loved one’s outside life gets put on pause. They’ll still have the freedom to go about their business where they like and when they like. If your loved one no longer drives, many communities offer transportation trips to the doctor, grocery store, and other common needs. For trips that aren’t covered by the community directly, your loved one can find transportation through a home care or ride sharing service.

There is no single piece of advice that is the magical answer for easing the transition to senior living. However, if you follow the above tips as guidance, it will go a long way.

Considering a Move to Independent Living Before You Need Assisted Living?

Considering a Move to Independent Living Before You Need Assisted Living?

Many seniors feel there is no real reason to move into a senior living community unless they need the services and support of assisted living. Their thinking is that as long as they’re healthy and mobile, they should continue to live in their own homes. For these folks, a move into a senior living community seems like surrendering.

There are thousands upon thousands of seniors in independent living communities who will happily dispel that line of thinking. Aside from health considerations, there are solid reasons to relocate before you actually need assisted living.

You lose the constant, nagging worries and the expense of home maintenance.

Take a look around your home. Is everything in good repair, or are there small signs of neglect and deterioration? If you see those signs, that may mean you no longer have the desire or the energy to keep your home in tip-top shape. Perhaps it’s time to move, before your home investment begins to lose value. And a big plus…housekeeping is also included or available in independent living communities.

Everyday transportation challenges are overcome.

Maybe your driving isn’t quite what it used to be. Or maybe you’ve found yourself spending longer in the car to get to the grocery store and pharmacy and the places you can buy things that are essential to your lifestyle. Either way, an independent living community can radically shrink the distances you have to travel. Most communities either furnish their own transportation or are contracted with a local transportation company. Many facilities also offer onsite canteen-like stores as well as beauty and barber shops.

Cooking becomes optional.

Speaking of buying groceries, are you tired of cooking? Residents of senior living communities often say that the food is the best part. If you’ve become bored with cooking and cleaning up afterwards, and understand that a steady diet of take-out is probably not meeting your nutritional needs, you will love that delicious meals are included or available in independent living communities.

Your social life will blossom.

Are you beginning to feel more and more isolated? Has your circle of friends diminished and does your datebook have blank pages? Maybe it’s time to make new friends. And one of the best places to make those new friends is at an independent living community.

First of all, the residents already living there are your peer group, which means no more trying to buddy-up to the young couple who moved in next door. Second of all, the social amenities and activities at most independent living communities are second to none. You’ll not only find companionship, but exercise classes, card games, painting classes, and other arts and crafts and hobbies of all kinds, movie nights, lunch and dinner outings, wine tastings, music, and much more.

The transition to assisted living is easier.

You’ve already made the “senior living decision” and probably discovered it was one of the choices you’ve ever made. If at some point you need it, assisted living is the next step on the journey. Think of it as independent living more personal services. In assisted living, you can continue to enjoy many of the activities and conveniences you’ve experienced in independent living, and now you know how fulfilling the senior living experience can be.

You may not fully understand this until you’ve made the move, but with independent living, you don’t give up your freedom and independence you improve it! Independent living can translate to more convenience, enjoyment, peace-of-mind, and yes…independence.