When an aging loved one is showing the signs of cognitive decline, it can be a frightening experience. However, getting help and a diagnosis from a professional as soon as possible is crucial to ensure that if it becomes necessary, your loved one gets the best possible care. Knowing what signs to look out for, when an evaluation may be necessary, and when to reach out to a professional is not easy. The good news is that Open Arms Solutions’ founder Julie Kollada, and licensed neuropsychologist Dr. Jennifer Wilson-Binotti are here to share some useful tips.
How to evaluate your loved one’s cognitive state has been the topic of one of the episodes of Conversations on Care, our Facebook talk show bringing together service providers, clients, and caregivers to help families better understand and cope with an aging parent with chronic care needs.
In this episode, Julie and Dr. Jenny discussed how dementia is diagnosed and how getting a proper evaluation can help you to determine the level of support you and your loved one may need. If you missed this episode of Conversations on Care don’t worry, you can rewatch the entire conversation at the end of this article.
How to evaluate your loved one’s cognitive state?
If you’re worried that your aging loved one’s mental state might be slipping, pay attention to the following warning signs:
- Repeating questions and stories. While we all repeat ourselves from time to time, especially as we age, if your loved one continuously keeps asking the same question or tells the same story all over again, there may be room for concern.
- Becoming withdrawn. Withdrawing from activities, interests, and social situations is often a first sign of declining mental ability, but it can also signify depression.
- Showing behavior that’s out of character. If your loved one is behaving in a way they would have never behaved before, it may be a sign of mental decline.
If any of these sound too familiar, it might be time to contact a professional for an evaluation.
In the conversation, Dr. Jenny shares an interesting experience that shows why a diagnosis is vital. She explains that once she was contacted by the family of a lady who had started putting furniture in front of the door at night — a behavior that the family found odd and alarming.
Dr. Jenny explains that this act turned out to be related to delusions created by Alzheimer’s disease, which can cause hallucinations and create a paranoid thought process. She warns that in similar situations, a doctor may prescribe antipsychotics to such delusions. However, such medications can sometimes counter certain dementias and this is why a diagnosis must always be made before prescribing medication.
What to do if your loved one may need help?
The very first step is always understanding and accepting that help may be needed. As Julie points out, while this may be a terrifying experience, what may be even more frightening is the frustration coming from not knowing how to cope with odd behaviors coming from your loved one and how to handle difficult situations.
Speaking from personal experience, she highlights that family members can sometimes be in denial, but the sooner they get help, the better. Dr. Jenny explains that while it can sometimes be a doctor or a lawyer who takes the first step of contacting a professional, in most cases, it’s a family member. And even though this is not an easy decision, it’s ultimately the family who benefits the most because once a diagnosis is made, they can start educating themselves on a now realized problem and learn how to cope with different situations.
How is an evaluation carried out?
If an aging adult is showing the signs of cognitive decline, an evaluation can be carried out that helps to understand how their brain is functioning. The evaluation means memory tests of different kinds, executive function tests, and language tests for instance, and the results help healthcare professionals build a cognitive profile that tells them a diagnosis pretty accurately and what they need to do to help the person.
Next, Dr. Jenny explains what this looks like in reality. The most important step is always to make sure that both the person being evaluated and the family experience the least amount of disruption to their lives and feel comfortable. Therefore, Dr. Jenny usually turns up in casual clothing to avoid looking like an intimidating doctor and tries her best to put everyone at ease. She sparks up a conversation with the family and their loved one and makes sure the family stays in the room until the person being evaluated feels comfortable enough to talk one-on-one. Even after, she ensures that they can go out for toilette or cigarette breaks anytime to make them feel relaxed and not strictly being examined. While from the outside this may seem casual, in the meantime, Dr. Jenny is gathering useful information about the person, their environment, where they are in their memory regression, about their mood and behavior, and about how defensive they get, which informs her next approach. This shows that while overall the situation might be frightening for everyone, the evaluation itself does not have to be a scary experience.
If there’s a chance that an evaluation may be necessary, Julia and Dr. Jenny both encourage families to take action as soon as possible. To hear more from the two dementia experts themselves, you can watch the entire conversation below.
If you’d like to find out more, like our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel to ensure you don’t miss the next episode of Conversations on Care. If you join the conversation live, you can ask questions and request topics every other week on Facebook or YouTube.
If you think your loved one may need care, you can take our short assessment quiz to ensure they get to live their best life possible. If you have any questions about dementia care, please reach out to us today!