One of the many challenges of the pandemic was that it forced many adult children to be separated from their aging parents for well over a year. For many families, the reunions are just now occurring, having waited to be fully vaccinated and for travel restrictions to lift. For most, it has been a joyous experience. But, in some cases, adult children find themselves facing something they weren’t prepared for after months away from an elderly loved one; the discovery that mom or dad is in the early stages of dementia.
If you are finding yourself in this situation, it’s easy to get lost in all the conflicting thoughts and concerns. You want to believe that it’s just the prolonged isolation that has taken its toll. And yet there may also be a nagging thought that it is, in fact, something more.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you observe your loved one’s behavior:
- Are they having a difficult time carrying on a conversation, losing track of the context?
- Do they seem more suspicious of those who are trying to help them?
- Are they more fearful of simple, routine activities like taking a walk?
- Do they easily become angry over things that never used to upset them?
- Are they leaving the stove burner on or water running?
- Are they leaving their back or front doors open?
- Have they misplaced personal items in unusual places?
- Are they forgetting to take their medications?
- Are they not attending to personal hygiene?
- Do you find yourself saying, ”Wow, I’m glad we caught that! Mom/dad could have been hurt!”
Any one or two of these things does not necessarily mean that your loved one is in the early stages of dementia. However, the best way to determine that is to take steps to confront your concerns head on. Those steps should include conversations with your loved one as well as other close family members. Finally, it needs to include an assessment by a licensed health professional with expertise in dementia.
It is never easy to discover that an aging loved one is no longer the sharp, active person he or she once was. In many cases, it is just part of growing older. In other cases, it may be mild cognitive loss and, possibly, the onset of dementia. Taking those initial steps, while difficult, can make a big difference downstream. Finding the courage to do so may be the most loving thing you can do for your aging loved one and for your family.