From the Docs

When a Loved One Shows Signs of Memory Problems

Age-related changes in our physical and mental abilities are a normal part of the life cycle. Technology and access to a world-class health care system, among other things, have helped to stretch our life spans longer than ever thought possible. The downside, though, is the noticeable rise in rates of serious illnesses impacting our mental abilities and memory, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. As a result of our parents living longer lives, we, as the adult children of elderly parents, are being asked to care for them and to find the right care for them when we are no longer able to care for them safely on our own.

Here are some things to keep in mind when asking yourself if it is time to start looking at options for the best place for someone suffering from dementia.

• Have friends or family members commented on changes in the loved one’s behavior? When you’re the primary caregiver for someone with dementia, it is easy to lose track of seemingly small changes in their behavior and personality that somehow makes it feel “normal.” These changes (which may include confusion and tension, leading to violence or aggression) are often much easier to spot by a distant relative who may not have frequent contact with the individual.

• Does your loved one wander? Wandering is something of an alarm bell and is a common sign it’s time for a memory care facility. Seniors can become confused, disoriented and (if unattended) wander away without realizing where they are. This can lead to dangerous situations like walking on busy roads without being able to articulate where they live or provide caregiver contact information.

• Are their living conditions safe? Someone with dementia may begin to show odd or curious habits like hoarding household items or neglecting household chores. Seniors with dementia may also demonstrate more problematic and potentially dangerous habits such as eating food that has spoiled, forgetting to clean up pet waste, having unsecured firearms in the home, taking too much medication or forgetting to take it at all and the increased fire danger involved with the inappropriate use of certain kitchen appliances (e.g., storing mail in the toaster oven) or forgetting to turn off the stove or oven.

• Is your loved one well nourished? Are they gaining or losing weight? Seniors with dementia require special diets to help manage and address existing health conditions. It is common for seniors with dementia to overeat due to forgetting they just ate or to lose weight because they forgot to eat.

• Is your loved one able to carry on and manage their activities of daily living (ADL)? The ability to perform ADLs, such as dressing, bathing, brushing teeth, using the bathroom and eating, are common benchmarks to judge whether a senior needs extra help. An individual who struggles to complete these daily tasks may need 24-hour care/companionship.

These are just some of the more basic yet important markers that your loved one may need additional care, assisted living or potentially a memory care option. Every family is different, and the decision to explore memory care for your loved one will depend on a host of factors, some of which include your home care environment, cultural and family belief systems, and financial resources.

An important resource in this process is the individual’s doctor. The best time to get the doctor involved is as soon as possible! Even if the observed memory impairments and changes are mild, having a physician involved early in the process can help provide a baseline for your loved one and make it easier to track changes over time. Talking with a doctor early on can also help navigate the tough conversations that come with the territory, as a medical professional may be better equipped to introduce topics like driving safety, home modifications, senior living options, and what these transitions might look like. It’s never too early to bring up the concerns you may have noticed in your family member’s behavior. By discussing dementia early, you give your loved one the opportunity to be an active participant in the conversation about next steps in a way that honors their autonomy and independence.

For more information on resources in Southern California and Los Angeles on this topic, check out the following websites: and For support around these and similar issues, remember that you can also reach out to Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 for free and confidential consultation or therapy with a licensed psychologist, to connect with a peer support member or to talk with a chaplain.