Q. My parents live in Miami. We have begun noticing memory issues with my mother and we do have a family history of dementia. Even her friends have commented to me about changes they’ve noticed.
Obviously we’re all concerned, but don’t know how best to handle the early stages of a memory disorder. I am one of five children and while we visit regularly and speak frequently, none of us live in Miami. Any help is appreciated.
— William M., Pensacola
A. If your parents have a long-time physician, chances are he or she has already noticed these changes in your mother’s memory, and can recommend a specialist or a Memory Disorder Center that specializes in comprehensive evaluations. Someone who is trained in memory disorders will be able to properly diagnose your mother and differentiate between age-related memory loss, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. A clinician will also be able to tell you where your mother is on the spectrum of the disease. These assessments can include conversations with both of your parents, a physical examination, memory tests, comprehensive neuropsychological testing and/or brain scans.
An advantage of going to a Comprehensive Memory Disorder Center is that they would offer guidance for you and your siblings on how to best help your mother and how to plan for what may be a progressive decline in her cognitive abilities.
Whichever approach you take for an evaluation, I recommend that you or one of your siblings accompany your parents. It can be a lengthy appointment as there is a lot of data being collected from your father as well. It’s a lot of information for one person to take in by themselves in one day.
Knowing what challenges your parents can expect in the near future will also help you and your siblings to plan your caregiver roles. With four siblings, who you say visit and talk frequently, you are in the fortunate position to be able to share the many caregiving responsibilities that may lie ahead as your parents age.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.