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Senior Health

Just normal aging?

11/22/2000

Question:

I am quite concerned about my Mom`s condition. We are wondering if she might be showing early symptoms of Alzheimers or some other disorder. She won`t see a doctor. We see memory loss and occaisional disorientation as symtoms. She is very irritable on occasion and denies her symtpoms. She has disturbed sleep - she often only sleeps 4 hours per night - waking and not able to return to sleep around 3 a.m. She is in excellent health at 73 years and is very active. (She runs and large B&B and a garden measuring 40 x 70!) Does this sound serious? Is it just aging? Any advise on how to get her to a Doctor?

Answer:

Hello, I received your message and have several thoughts about the symptoms you describe.

There are many possible explanations for your mother`s symptoms. Memory loss and disorientation are not considered "normal" as we age. Everyone will have occasional lapses of memory such as forgetting where we put car keys, or where we parked the car in a parking lot, etc. but significant memory loss or disorientation episodes are not considered "normal aging".

The sleep cycle is altered in aging but the amount of sleep loss your mother is experiencing sounds excessive and could result in disoriention from sleep deprivation. If your mother is exhibiting irritability and she is not usually an irritable person, this is also a personality change that could be caused from sleep deprivation and many other reasons.

You have given me just enough information to suggest that your mother is experiencing a major deviation from her usual behavior and that she is in need of a comprehensive evaluation by her physician. I understand that she is resisting a doctor visit. Sometimes family members of older adults are able to voice their concerns about what they have observed and urge the person to see a doctor so that the family can have peace of mind knowing that "everything is all right". The person may go to the doctor for the family, truly believing that nothing is wrong. Denying that something is wrong is typical for many people experiencing memory problems.

Ask if you or another family member can take your mother to the doctor. (**Someone needs to go along to provide information to the doctor about the changes you have observed. It is important that the physician obtain information about your mother from someone other than your mother, especially when your mother is experiencing memory problems and may forget to mention important symptoms.**)

Sometimes family members work through other people that are significant in the person`s life such as a minister, rabbi, or other members of her faith community. Also, close friends or confidants of the older adult may be helpful in influencing the person to get a "check up to make sure everyting`s ok".

Your mother sounds very active and able. But she is experiencing some difficulties that need to be addressed as soon as possible before the symptoms affect her everyday life.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati