Long married couples are often said to "finish each other’s sentences." They work as a unit, and friends and family members are used to this interaction. This ability to work as a team is a wonderful thing until one of the team isn’t functioning well and the other is in denial. When couples cover up for each other, precious time can be lost. So, adult children need to be on the lookout for signs that things aren’t going well.
Deciding when to act
Healthy aging brings with it some losses, but if seniors have a mate, they often can live independently for a longer time as they fill in the gaps for each other. Dad’s hearing is getting dim, but Mom coaches him and he does okay. Mom’s driving is questionable, but Dad does most of the driving when they are in high traffic areas, so she still gets around fine.
However, what if Dad’s hearing is not just a physical problem? What if he doesn’t understand what is said to him because his brain isn’t functioning properly? What if Mom’s driving skills are declining because, rather than just easily rattled by traffic as she’s always been, she forgets where she was going?
Teasing apart a decades-long team effort to present a united face of viable functioning to the world isn’t easy, but careful observance can generally penetrate their act.
Covering up isn’t always a team effort, as even a single elder can mask dementia symptoms. An article on Forbes.com, by Carolyn Rosenblatt, examines this issue.
Rosenblatt writes that action should be taken even if a dementia diagnosis isn’t made by a physician. In her article she says, “Here’s what’s important: it doesn’t matter if you have a diagnosis for your aging parent or not. It matters how your aging parent functions. It matters how you deal with what you see"If your aging parent or loved one is showing persistent memory loss and starting to mess up the basics of life, it’s a warning you should not ignore”"
Most Alzheimer’s experts would agree with Rosenblatt’s statement. The key to dementia is often in the changes we observe in our elders. Using the example above of Mom’s driving, what is important is the change in her functioning. Many people hate high traffic driving. With normal aging, our reflexes aren’t as quick, our eyesight isn’t as keen, and we may avoid some of these situations more than when we were younger. This is a wise decision. However, if Mom is avoiding driving because she gets lost even in familiar territory, she is showing signs of possible dementia.
If Dad, who made a living as a businessman, often crunching numbers in his work and also ran the family finances with precision and accuracy, is making a lot of financial errors, something may be wrong. Suddenly, or so it seems to his family, he’s late paying bills or he over-draws the checking account. This could be a sign of stress, or a sign that his medications are affecting his ability to think well. It could be a sign of an infection in his system. Or it could be a sign that he is developing dementia. Only a complete checkup by a skilled specialist is likely to give you an answer.
However, you, the adult, may not know what is happening to your parent because he’s not telling you he is having problems. He’s afraid. He knows there may be something wrong that can’t be fixed, so he’s covering up. It’s up to you to watch for signs of these changes so you can help.
Many problems aren’t caused by dementia
If more people realized that there can be many reasons for dementia-like symptoms, other than dementia, they maybe would see a doctor sooner. Also, if they knew that an early dementia diagnosis could mean that a prescription may help stave off the worst symptoms longer, they could be more willing to see a doctor.
Your parent may be covering confusion or memory loss out of fear. So, if you see signs of this, please try to talk with him or her gently and reassuringly, and get him or her to a doctor. After that, whether or not the diagnosis is dementia, you’ll have some grounds for moving forward with any plans that need to be made for future care.