It is not unusual for an elderly parent or other relative to experience an occasional memory lapse. But frequent or prolonged memory lapses may indicate the existence of a more serious problem. Memory loss is often the first sign of dementia, which can affect an individual to the point where they can no longer take care of themselves or manage their own affairs.
What Causes Memory Loss?
Memory loss is not simply a function of getting older. There are numerous factors that may contribute to memory loss. For example, a person may be taking prescription medication, such as sleeping pills or antidepressants, that interferes with memory. There also non-medicinal drugs—i.e., alcohol and controlled substances like marijuana—where extended usage can alter brain chemistry and thus affect memory.
In terms of physical causes, a head or brain injury, such as a concussion, may result in memory loss. Nutritional deficiencies and certain types of infections, including HIV and herpes, may also lead to memory problems. Thyroid disorders—having either an overactive or underactive thyroid—can also prevent a person from recalling recent events.
Then there is memory loss tied to some other mental disorder. Depression, which is common among older persons, especially those who live alone, can manifest itself in the form of memory problems. Stress and sleep deprivation can also have a negative effect on a person’s memory.
Diagnosing and Monitoring Memory Loss
Health care professionals use the phrase “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) to describe memory loss that is above the norm for a person based on their age. MCI means a person has memory problems but is otherwise capable of carrying out the daily activities of living. Unfortunately, MCI is often a temporary, transitional state.
MCI is often the first step towards dementia, where a person’s memory and thinking ability is impaired to the point where it does affect their day-to-day activities. Dementia is often associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, which is a progressive loss of brain cells and cognitive function. But dementia is not Alzheimer’s-specific. Other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, can lead to serious memory loss.
How Family Members Can Help
If you are living with someone suffering from MCI, dementia, or who is otherwise experiencing memory loss, it can be stressful for you as well as the other person. Perhaps the best advice is to be supportive but not belligerent. You should help the person try to remember things—such as doctors’ appointments or mealtimes—without putting them on the spot or calling attention to their memory loss.
Since dementia can also affect a person’s legal capacity, it is important to speak with an experienced Muskegon elder law attorney who can assist you with making long-term plans to care for the person’s health and property. An elder law attorney can help draft powers of attorney and other documents allowing a person suffering from dementia or memory loss to designate agents to act on their behalf when they are no longer able to. If you need to speak with someone right away, either on behalf of yourself or a family member, contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C.