Taking Stock at the Holidays
Amid reunions and celebrations, the holidays are a time for assessment for those worried about the cognitive well-being of their parents. Here are some ways to assess how well they are functioning:
- Are they paying their bills on time? Look at their checkbooks and any mail that has collected. Is the checkbook in good order? Are there notices of overdue payments?
- Are they asking the same questions repeatedly? Frequent repetition of questions is a symptom of the inability to process new information and should be taken seriously.
- Are they having trouble finding words? Everyone has trouble from time to time finding words. However, most of us recall the word subsequently. If your parents are frequently unable to recall a word, or if they use many general words, such as “thing” or “place”, instead of “book” or “post office”, it is suggestive of cognitive decline.
- Are they forgetting information that you would expect them to remember, such as regularly scheduled meetings or gatherings? Forgetting a well-established pattern or routine event is not normal. You may see increased reliance on a calendar or the presence of many reminder notes.
- Are they driving slowly or missing turns to often-frequented destinations? Take a drive with your parents and observe.
- Are they returning later than you would expect from walks or drives? Frequent late returns can signal that the person is getting lost while out. Be mindful of the amount of time it takes to complete an errand or a walk.
- Are they storing objects in inappropriate places? The classic is discovering pajamas in the freezer. Check to see if clothing, food, kitchen utensils are all stored where you would expect them.
If you notice that your parent’s behavior matches these descriptions, it is time for a cognitive evaluation.