Should my loved one be evaluated for memory loss?

Published 5:08 pm Monday, August 27, 2012

Many of us have aging parents whose actions often make us wonder, is mom really okay?
I remember the day several years ago when I stopped by to visit my mother late one morning. I rang the front doorbell – no answer. I let myself in and heard what I thought was running water. I checked the garage and mom’s car was gone. Something didn’t add up. I knocked on the bedroom door and walked into an empty room. The shower in her bathroom was running, and I guessed that it had been on for some time. When I saw my mother later that day I mentioned what I had found, and as expected, she denied having left the shower running when she left the house that morning. Not good.
If you are seeing confusion or forgetfulness with your loved one, and are wondering if it might be time for a physical and/or mental evaluation to determine if there is a problem, the short answer is yes!
Some occasional forgetfulness is normal, increasing forgetfulness or confusion is a red flag.  It’s not necessarily a sign of dementia, because there are a lot of things that can cause seniors to demonstrate changes in behavior, attitude, energy and cognitive skills. Among the many possible reasons for temporary symptoms are: depression, prescription drug toxicity, poor eating habits, alcohol abuse or interaction with prescribed medicines or a urinary tract infection. Or it might actually be warning signs of a dementia such as Alzheimer’s. You simply can’t guess at a diagnosis.
While it’s not always easy to convince a spouse or aging parent to go to a doctor, failing to do so can allow an easily resolved problem to become a major crisis in very short order.
It may be time for a complete medical work-up, including a full medical history, a thorough physical exam with lab tests, neurological testing, functional skills testing and possibly an MRI of the brain or a CT scan if other parts of the body are suspected of causing the problem.
If this will be the first mental evaluation for your loved one, it’s a good idea to select a geriatric neurologist to do the exam, and you need to be there to accurately relate to the doctor exactly what’s going on. If a previous diagnosis has already been made indicating dementia, it is most likely Alzheimer’s disease. With new behavior changes like agitation or depression, the neurologist may suggest further evaluation by a geriatric psychiatrist who can prescribe medications to deal with the depression and agitation issues.
For those who are facing these types of challenges for the first time, getting assistance to learn what to do, which doctors to choose and what to expect can be very comforting and helpful.  Contact your local Alzheimer’s Association or a caregiver’s support group for physician referrals.  You’d be amazed at how much information people who’ve lived through what you’re about to go through have, and how willing they are to share and help. You don’t have to do this alone, and you’re not the first person who has ever faced the problems you’re now seeing with your loved one.
Like so many challenges in life, this is one that is best dealt with sooner than later.
Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert on issues of geriatrics and aging in private practice in Henderson and Polk counties.  He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available on and at the Polk County Senior Center. His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact him at (828) 696-9799 or by email at:

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