Memory loss is a fact of modern life: we are busy, we forget things, and then we panic when we realize that we’ve missed a doctor’s appointment or forgotten to pick up the ingredients for dinner with our in-laws. Everyone has forgotten whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, the exact ingredients for apple pie, and their internet passwords. Our lives are sufficiently complex that we can often feel that we can’t keep up: we have to buy more gadgets to keep track of our gadgets, and we have to remember three questions and two email addresses, it seems, just to reset a forgotten password.
While technology has certainly progressed at an astounding pace in the last few decades, there are some of us who miss the good old days. People under the age of 30 do not remember a time before automated phone systems: being greeted by a computerized voice and asked to punch a series of buttons can frustrate even the most patient among us. Sometimes it seems that our entire lives are computerized, and older Americans do report significant frustrations when they learn to make use of the internet. There’s so much to remember, so much to keep track of, and so much to forget.
So when do routine memory lapses become a health issue? People joke about Alzheimer’s care, but is forgetting to put out the trash really cause for concern? There are more than 5 million American adults who are on a medical care plan for dementia — with about 5% receiving a diagnosis in their 40s or 50s — and the best assisted living facilities are looking for patients who have yet to receive their diagnosis. Memory lapses can be annoying, but may require medical treatment if they interfere with work or home life.
Experts in memory loss and dementia care would like older Americans to realize that small lapses in memory are usually not cause for concern. If you make an error in your financial records once in a while, forget how to operate your remote control, or call your grandchildren by your children’s names, do not worry that you are on the verge of dementia. There is normal, age-related memory loss that does not require a skilled nursing facility. You could be overworked, you could be stressed, or you could just make a minor mistake without intending to do so.
Alzheimer’s and long-term dementia have their own set of symptoms, also related to memory lapses but on a deeper level. People who are developing dementia may find that they have forgotten how to drive their cars, how to perform certain routine tasks at work, the names of their friends and family members, or how to handle money. Close friends may notice that people who are in need of dementia care at a skilled nursing facility are repeating themselves, highly confused, wandering alone away from the safety of home or work, or “discovering” themselves out in public but not being completely sure how they got to that location.
Further symptoms of dementia could include: not knowing the month or year, withdrawal from hobbies and sports teams, and problems naming objects. Again, we all have moments where we call the microwave an oven accidentally, but a dementia patient might refer to a microwave as a “cooking-box,” forget how to use it entirely, or become angry and withdrawn when they are asked to locate it or utilize it. Skilled nursing facility staff are aware that drastic mood changes can be common in patients with dementia.
A skilled nursing facility can also help patients with dementia perform self-care tasks, such as daily dressing and hygiene routines. As the number of Americans over the age of 65 continues to increase, it is likely that the number of seniors who are either diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or who are caring for someone with dementia will continue to rise as well.