"Normal" or Not-Normal Aging: How to Recognize the Signals of Cognitive Decline
Cloud Quarngesser Conrad '73, a dementia caregiver trainer and mentor, led alumni in a discussion of cognitive decline on Thursday, July 8.
In her talk, Cloud emphasized that signs of "normal" aging include occasional word loss, mild forgetfulness, slower to process thoughts, moodiness, less social engagement, loss of muscle strength, and a decrease in fine motor skills, to name a few. However, worrisome developments are those that interfere with daily living or memory lapses from which a person cannot recover.
It’s crucial to not lead with an immediate conclusion of dementia if someone observes troublesome shifts in another. Other treatable medical disorders may mirror dementia symptoms, including depression, excessive alcohol consumption, vitamin deficiencies, hypothyroidism, ongoing pain, medication interactions, hearing loss, and vision loss. For that reason, professional medical help for a diagnosis is essential.
"I recommend to clients that they lead with, 'I noticed a change and I think this is something we can probably treat. Let's talk about this with Dr. Primary Care Physician' and make it something very manageable and not about dementia whatsoever... If you believe dementia is at play as you rule out treatable disorders, you can let the doctor bring that up." In doing so, clients avoid alienation from their loved one and, together, can navigate the path to a diagnosis.
In these instances, the establishment of a cognitive baseline is key, especially for adults 65+. Detection of mental irregularities can then be made by comparing results over time.
One such baseline can be found on the New Street Compass website, Cloud's company founded to help dementia caregivers gain knowledge, skill, and emotional support. Her mission is to help caregivers transform their sense of fear, frustration, and failure into curiosity, creative problem solving, and confidence.