Aging Parents and Us: Memory Loss or Loss of Focus?

I usually publish my blog Tuesday night. Yet I was immersed in readying for, and cleaning up after, a New Year’s Eve party and completely forgot. While multitasking has been a constant in the lives of many of us with old/older parents, the following from Mayo Clinic is a quick, timely read for me and quite possibly for you.

I wrote about disorganization at holiday time and feeling like ADD was at work. So this MD’s short answer, “Stop multitasking and learn how to focus (If link is problematic, Google Mayo Clinic; write “Adult Health” in search box; click any Adult Health post and put “Stop Multitasking” in search box on post’s page), speaks to me with 4 timely suggestions. Indeed, they are doable and 1 (or all 4) could be considered a New Year’s resolution for some. In previous posts (see “Related” below).

Sr. Advisor R talks about how she decided it was essential that she learned to discipline herself to focus. Widowed at 51, as she aged alone in her home, she began forgetting where she put things. When she lost her keys and could ask no one for help, she told herself “You’ve got to pay attention.” And she realized her head was often thinking one thing, while her hands were doing something else (like putting the keys in an unlikely place).

It’s easy for me–and no doubt us if we are caregivers and/or have aging parents–to  juggle too much and lose focus. Depending on our age, we may or may not have memory concerns about ourselves.  On the other hand, when older parents start forgetting, an alarm bell is often triggered

. Since Sr. Advisor R, 100-years-old and my mother-in-law, is way ahead of me in life’s lessons, I needn’t share the 4 suggestions with her. She lives by them. That said, sharing these suggestions with elders who seem frustrated–or are frustrating us–because of memory problems, is another way we can help parents age well.
Related: 2 posts written in early January 2012–basically this same time of year:   https://helpparentsagewell.com/2012/01/03/help-aging-parents-memory-and-multi-tasking-2/ and

https://helpparentsagewell.com/2012/01/04/help-aging-parents-memory-and-multi-tasking-continued-from-yesterday/ with Sr. Advisor psychiatrist, Dr. Bud’s (MD) observations and suggestions and

https://helpparentsagewell.com/2013/07/23/difficult-discussion-strategies-ie-memory-loss/ A Burke Rehabilitation (NY) physician distinguishes between benign forgetfulness and dementia.  A model difficult conversation is included here..

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Feeling Alone in a Crowded Room–plus 2 Additional Reasons They May Not Want to Go Out Any More

It may all boil down to pride; staying home is safe.

No one likes to feel diminished, whether it’s unintentional or not. Yet going someplace where interaction with others is the norm can pose a threat to older people’s pride and self-esteem when they have certain aging issues. I think it’s safe to say many–if not all– older people begin to recognize what octogenarian Julia calls “a lessening of oneself,” adding “it’s not pleasant.”

When others no longer pay attention to them and/or or older people don’t want others to discover their “lessening,” thoughts of being with others away from home can be emotionally troubling. Three issues (you may think of more) that can cause this.

1. Mobility
2. Vision
3. Memory

Mobility: We Can Change This Scene

I’m was at a family gathering that included my oldest cousin (age 88) a widow, now living in Assisted Living due to heart and mobility problems. My cousins’ ages have a big spread. Many cousins (plus some of their children, grandchildren and a great- grandchild) were at the gathering. Age range was 2-90 (a cousin’s husband).

Since I live across the country I don’t see family members often. Things change in a year as we know. I try to remember Sr. Advisor’s wise words: Don’t assume. Nevertheless, I keep being surprised.

I was surprised, upon arriving at the gathering, to find my oldest cousin (a once capable working mother and volunteer) sitting basically alone in the living room, in a very hard-to get-out-of chair, while the rest of the family was socializing outside on the patio or busying themselves placing food on the nearby table for a buffet-style meal.

From time to time the youngest would run through the living room, with his aunt in hot pursuit.  My oldest cousin was in the scene but out of the action….ignored.  She could not move from the current chair without help. Evidently no one thought about that.

As she and I talked, I asked if she was comfortable or would prefer sitting on the patio. She wasn’t comfortable, she said, and two of us helped her out of the deep-cushioned chair and walked onto the patio with her. We found a suitable chair with a firm seat and arms from which she could stand up and walk (if someone put her walker into position for her). She was back in the action.

In hindsight we can change the scene by:

  • initially providing a sturdy armchair (with a firm seat) which is easy to get up from. A wheel chair would work even better for those who use a wheel chair.
  • watching that no one is ignored
  • having a sit-down meal, using informal place cards, for compatible seating

Seder: The O’Learys, the Steins, 99 1/2-year-old R, Us + 47 others, a previous post this year, is a model of sensitive people hosting a large event that includes an old person who hasn’t the energy to move around a lot.

Vision: We can be the eyes in an unobtrusive way

I think about a good friend whose mother was declared legally blind in her 90’s. My friend had an innate understanding of how to help parents age well–respecting and empowering. She related how her mother no longer wanted to go out if there would be too many people she knew. Her vision was so poor that she feared she wouldn’t recognize someone she knew well and that would be embarrassing.

We can’t change the scene, but we can safeguard elders’ pride and self-esteem.

  • When in a smallish group it was easy for my friend to remain by her mother’s side and whisper the names of people who were heading towards them. (Her mother didn’t want to be embarrassed by having her daughter say “You remember so-and-so.”)
  • Or she would take the initiative and say, for example, “Hello, Kristi” so her mother had the name before needing to use it.
  • When parents no longer drive but otherwise seem unchanged, let the person driving your parent know about the vision loss so when people can come over they can initiate “Hello Mary, it’s so-and-so.” or I’m so-and-so.

Memory

Memory issues seem more tricky. I am told a very successful man–once a leader in his community–was invited to a party all his friend would be attending. He had memory loss that was worsening. His wife, assuming it would be good for him to be with his old friends and attend a happy event, was insisting he go. He didn’t want to go, but gave up arguing. Instead he decided not to get dressed for the party.  His pride wouldn’t allow him to be any less of a person than his old friends knew and remembered. His wife didn’t get it….until he finally “put his foot down” in a way she couldn’t ignore.

As we try to help parents age well, we realize that older people can be easily marginalized by unthinking people–even caring people who would be appalled if they realized what they were(n’t) doing. Why does it seem easy to forget our elders have pride?
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Note-New: Check out “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.    

 

A SAD STORY (begun 12/17; finished Sat. 12/19)

This situation may not be all that uncommon, although I hope I’m wrong. It involves a retired, respected professional in the health care field; his independence; his capable, caring adult daughter with an extraordinarily busy life; And stuff that can happen, but shouldn’t.
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     Rodney, divorced, was in his early 80’s living happily by himself in a condo in a very nice southern California suburb. Because of his profession he had many friends who valued his wisdom and kind ways. But he was increasingly seeming “spacey”– “dementia-like” to those who knew him well. He appeared unsteady on his feet at times. Close friends obviously noticed this and may have attributed it to his age. (But maybe people simply hesitated to “rock the boat” as discussed in a previous post.) Clearly the reasons for no one questioning Rodney’s physical and mental change could be many.
     One day Rodney took a bad fall in his apartment. A neighbor heard his call for help and phoned 911. At the local hospital where supposedly they did a full evaluation to determine the cause of his fall, his daughter was told he needed assisted living.
     She quickly and efficiently made arrangements for assisted living, but it was soon evident that Rodney needed even more help so a private aide was hired to be with him. More falls, more trips in and out of the hospital. No one understood the cause, only the effect as Rodney became more and more frustrated and, at times, unruly. Assisted living could not provide the care Rodney required.

     So his daughter located a group home with adequate staff to watch him and prevent more falls. The supervisor of the home, a thorough person, had a hunch… that medication could be causing Rodney’s problems. It then surfaced that Rodney (who could legally write prescriptions), prescribed and used a common sleep aid. Rodney had no primary care doctor (unrelated specialists treated him). And evidently prior to the “hunch” no one was aware Rodney was taking this medication, which could produce the side effects Rodney was experiencing.

     The good news: the group home’s supervisor put Rodney on a new medication. He’s himself again; he’s much steadier on his feet. The bad news: he has nothing in common with the residents at this group home. He doesn’t like living there. But during these many months his efficient daughter quickly sold his condo because, she was told, he could no longer live alone and because funds were–and would be–needed for his care. Rodney has no condo to return to.

Initially his daughter was glad to see him cared for, didn’t wanted another upheaval, and thought she would have peace of mind. But with new medication, Rodney made it clear he had no reason to stay in the group home.

     A bad start, lack of information, incomplete knowledge, inaccurate assumptions, and a busy, caring daughter’s well-meaning quick fixes.

1.  When making important decisions, think: is it better/easier for my parents or better/easier for me?
2.  Having a current list of parents’ medications may avoid problems and be helpful.
3.  Getting help from an experienced geriatric social worker would most likely have reduced the busy daughter’s stress and led to well-thought-out changes with a quicker, better outcome.
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Eventually Rodney did move from the group home, but much time had passed and other problems arose; so he moved to an assisted living facility–much better suited to his needs.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.