Is your loved one beginning to show lapses in memory or struggling to make decisions? Many family members find themselves wondering if this is part of the normal aging process or if they should seek help. Uncertainty often makes it difficult to know what action to take.

Cognitive changes in older adults can be a source of increased anxiety and indecision for both individuals and family members. To make it more challenging, occasional forgetfulness or moments of confusion can be part of normal aging.

However, these might also be signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which approximately 12% to 18% of people over the age of 60 live with. The Alzheimer’s Association defines MCI as an early stage of memory or other cognitive loss. Its characteristics include a decline in memory, thinking, reasoning and judgment. Although noticeable by the person affected and their family members and friends, it usually doesn’t affect the individual’s ability to carry out everyday activities.

Cognitive changes in older adults: risk factors and symptoms

There generally is no single cause of MCI. And no single outcome. According to the Mayo Clinic, MCI may progress to Alzheimer’s disease, another type of dementia, remain stable or even improve over time.

While increased age is a major contributor to cognitive changes in older adults, understanding and managing the other risk factors when possible can help:

  • Having a specific form of the gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Depression
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Low participation in mentally or socially stimulating activities.

Source: More Than Normal Aging: Understanding Mild Cognitive Impairment

While it can be difficult to differentiate between typical age-related lapses and cognitive impairment in the early stages, here are symptoms to watch for that may indicate MCI or a form of dementia:

  1. Memory loss: Symptoms of cognitive changes in older adults often include forgetting important appointments, events or recent conversations more frequently than usual.
  2. Difficulty with language: Struggling to find the right words in conversation, forgetting familiar words or experiencing difficulty following a conversation can signal impairment.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks: Struggling to perform routine tasks, such as managing finances or following a recipe can occur. Managing medications or navigating familiar routes may become challenging.
  4. Impaired judgment: You might notice your loved one making poor decisions or poor judgment in financial matters, fall prey to scams or struggle to assess risks in everyday situations.
  5. Misplacing items: Occasionally misplacing objects is normal, but frequently losing items and being unable to retrace steps can be symptoms of MCI or dementia.
  6. Changes in mood or behavior: Uncharacteristic changes in mood, personality or behavior – such as increased irritability, anxiety or depression – can signal MCI or dementia.
  7. Confusion about time or place: Cognitive changes in older adults may appear as disorientation or becoming confused about the date, time or location, especially in familiar surroundings.

Steps to take if you notice cognitive changes in an older adult

If you suspect your loved one is experiencing impairment beyond the normal process of aging, here are 5 steps you can take:

  1. Encourage open communication: Approach the topic with sensitivity and empathy. Express your concerns in a supportive manner, emphasizing your desire to help them maintain their health and independence.
  2. Consult a healthcare professional: For a thorough evaluation, schedule an appointment with your loved one’s primary care physician or a specialist in geriatric medicine.
  3. Gather information: Before the appointment, make notes of specific symptoms and any changes you’ve observed in your loved one’s behavior or cognitive abilities.
  4. Explore treatment options: Depending on the diagnosis – medications, cognitive training programs or lifestyle changes may help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
  5. Plan for the future: If a diagnosis of MCI or dementia is confirmed, work with your loved one to create a plan for their future care, including legal, financial and potential living arrangements.

Having a conversation about cognitive changes

Addressing the topic of cognitive decline with a loved one requires empathy, patience and sensitivity. Before having the conversation, the following suggestions often help:

•  Choose the right time and place: Find a quiet, comfortable setting to speak openly without distractions or interruptions.
•  Express concern with compassion: Begin by expressing your love and concern for their well-being.
•  Provide concrete examples: Share specific instances where you’ve noticed changes in their behavior or cognition. Be gentle but honest.
•  Listen with empathy: Encourage your loved one to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption. Validate their emotions and assure them of your support.
•  Respect their autonomy: Individuals should make decisions about their own health and future care whenever possible. Offer guidance and assistance but respect their preferences.

How The Charleston Senior Community can help

Recognizing and addressing cognitive changes in older adults can be a challenging and emotional journey, but you don’t have to navigate it alone.

The Charleston Senior Community can provide support, guidance and compassionate care every step of the way. Together, we can empower your loved one to live their best life, no matter what challenges they may face.

The Charleston Senior Living Community

Locally owned and operated, we offer personalized care by our dedicated team members. Setting a new standard in Assisted Living and Memory Care, we don’t define our residents by their limitations or illness but instead believe in focusing on the positive and the possibility.

The Charleston Senior Community includes private apartments for assisted living residents and for those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Your loved ones will benefit from our attention to detail, routine health assessments, delicious dining and daily activity programs as we support everyone to live their best life.

Consider a few of our amenities:

  • Chef-led dining program
  • Community movie theater
  • Salon
  • Ballroom
  • Live entertainment
  • Outdoor patio
  • Social lounges
  • Housekeeping

If you or your family are thinking about Assisted living or Memory care, we hope you will consider The Charleston Senior Community. We are a trusted resource and are here to answer any questions, contact us today.

We also invite you to download our complimentary Early Signs of Dementia guide to learn more about what to look for in older adults that might mean it’s time to consider senior living.