While most of us have probably lost our keys or misplaced something that was under our nose the whole time, a question many people have is, “Is there a reason to be concerned, or might it just be a Senior Moment?”
A challenge for many families is often determining at what point a change in behavior merits consideration, and when to pursue medical attention.
People often make statements such as “Dad’s going nuts,” or “Mom’s lost her mind,” and don’t recognize that treatments may be available to help a loved one. Dementia, depression and delirium are conditions that cause behavior changes, yet are often undiagnosed and untreated.
The incidence of all three conditions increase as people age. If you sense a change in a loved one’s behavior, encourage your loved one to undergo an assessment by his or her physician. To help health care professionals diagnose and treat a medical condition, it can be helpful to keep a journal of unusual behaviors and report any and all symptoms.
Let’s take a look at each of the three conditions:
DEMENTIA is a term that describes disorders that affect the functioning of one’s brain, and it is characterized by mental decline and impairment. Dementia and Alzheimer’s, a degenerative disorder of the brain, is reported to be the most common cause of dementia in older adults. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that “As many as 10% of all people 65 years of age and older have Alzheimer’s. As many as 50% of all people 85 and older have the disease.”
People with Alzheimer’s have dementia; however people with dementia don’t necessarily have Alzheimer’s. For example, people with chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s can have dementia. A common form of dementia is a condition referred to as Multi-Infarct, where blood flow is cut off from a certain part of the brain, resulting in permanent damage and loss of mental capacity.
People with dementia often have trouble with their ability to recall information, solve problems and speak. They may also act strange or seem moody. People with dementia often lose the ability to perform everyday tasks necessary to live independently. Another characteristic is an inability to make decisions or respond to questions.
DEPRESSION refers to a mood disorder that can affect both a person’s mind and body. While many people never seek treatment for depression, those who do often experience improvement over time. While everyone occasionally feels depressed or sad, depression is characterized by intense sadness that lasts for a period of two weeks or longer, and impacts a person’s ability to lead a normal life.
DELIRIUM is a cognitive or mental disorder, not a disease. Delirium appears suddenly, often within hours or days, and may come and go throughout the day. A person who is delirious may appear disoriented, exhibit varying levels of consciousness, have disorganized speech, and an inability to comprehend what’s being sad. Delirium can be frightening as a loved one acts unpredictably, is uncooperative and sometimes acts violently. With delirium, there is typically an underlying cause such as infection (commonly UTI’s in older adults), dehydration, physical illness, head injury, trauma, substance abuse, or a reaction to medications (e.g., prescription, over-the-counter, supplements). Once the cause is identified and treatment begins (e.g., changing medications, increasing fluids or treating infections), there is often a quick turn-around.
SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
If you notice a change in a loved one’s behavior, regardless if the change is sudden or gradual over time, seek medical attention. Health care professionals are likely to complete an assessment to rule out possible causes, make a diagnosis and determine treatment options. People who receive treatment often enjoy a better quality of life.