Parent with memory problems
November 6, 2017 4:59 AM   Subscribe

My mom is having some problems with her memory and this seems to be getting worse. I feel unprepared to deal with this and scared. Details abound.

My mom (late 60s, retired, lives at home w my dad) has been experiencing problems with memory. For a long time she's had a tendency to forget things about my preferences (ex. I can't wear wool, it makes me crazy) but I've always just figured that was self-absorption and returned any unwearable xmas sweaters and moved on. She's always had intensely detailed memories of her childhood and school years, but in general she is disorganized and forgetful. Her home gets messier and messier every time I visit - she gets upset when I offer to help declutter (though she's distressed at the clutter).

Lately her memory seems to be getting worse and she is clearly distressed about it. she's forgotten things like projects we've talked about. For example, I show up with tulip bulbs for planting, something we've talked about on the phone a couple of times, and it's clear she doesn't remember talking about planting tulips. As far as I know she's not having trouble remembering how to cook, use the stove, etc. She seems to remember dates for doc appointments and trips just fine.

Her father had Alzheimers and that was so horribly, horribly difficult and I'm certain that's contributing to her distress. And mine.

I've asked her if I could go to her next doc appt with her and she's agreed (it still needs to be scheduled. I asked her if she'd already mentioned it to her doctor and she couldn't remember, and doesn't think that they could do anything anyway - we've had this conversation twice and both times I remind her that lots of things can cause memory problems and it's worth getting checked out). This would just be to see her primary who I'm hoping will run some tests to rule out other things that can cause memory problems such as thyroid or hormone issues, vitamin deficiency, etc. and then refer her to a specialist if she can't determine the root cause. She is on Medicaid and has care through the local Native American health care system.

I live several miles away from her but I plan to try to visit more often. My dad seems glad I'm getting involved with this but either in denial about how serious it could be or unaware that there could be help / treatment. He works during the day so if it does get to the point where she forgets to turn off the stove, he wouldn't be there to catch it.

What can I expect? What should I know that will help me help her get some answers? What resources might be available? How can I set some appropriate boundaries? I want to help but also don't want - and can't handle - a care-taking job on top of my regular job.

Other potentially relevant info - she was diagnosed w sleep apnea fairly recently and has a c-pap machine - I haven't confirmed that she's using it. She also has pre-diabetes.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I am so sorry you are going through this. What the doctor might do kind of depends on what training your mom's doctor has. You might find this website helpful -- there's a section part way down called "what to expect" -- it's about your exact question. At the least, the doctor should take or review a complete medical history, including your mom's father's illness. There should be blood tests -- you are exactly right that there are many potential causes for this problem. They should screen her for anxiety and depression, both of which can lead to memory problems, and they should do some cognitive functioning tests, which could be written or verbal. As her advocate, you can and should ask for any of the above if they are not offered to your mom. The page I linked to also talks about brain imaging, but that may not be necessary if she can be diagnosed by one of the above methods.

Also, now would be a good time to make sure your parents have a medical power of attorney giving you (or someone else) the ability to legally act for them in health matters. It is much harder to get this once the person is experiencing cognitive decline . Also, if they don't have wills, getting those made would be helpful. My father-in-law, who had dementia, refused to ever make a will or a medical power of attorney, which made the end of his life more difficult than it needed to be, for him and for my spouse. My mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer's, has both, and everything is so much easier for her.

Definitely find out if she is using the CPAP machine prior to the appointment. A lack of sleep can also cause memory issues.

Best of luck to you and your mom. This stuff is hard. You are doing a great thing by caring for her in this way!
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

To add to the medical power of attorney guidance, look into a general power of attorney. Is she paying bills ok? One of the watershed moments in my mom's descent into dementia (complicated with depression) was her inability to keep up with mail and bills.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 9:06 AM on November 6, 2017

Please also have her checked for a UTI - sometimes they can cause memory issues, up to and including symptoms similar to dementia/alzheimers. Just in case!

My grandmother sometimes has issues with memory, and we keep a notebook next to her chair with notes on it - like next appointments, etc. She often looks at it, so it helps her a little, although she doesn't always remember what is written on it.
posted by needlegrrl at 9:18 AM on November 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is she on any medications that could cause cognitive issues? My 68 year old mom was having memory problems and we don't have a history of that in our family (grandma is 94, lives alone, still drives). I determined that she was on a whole bunch of meds that had the possibility of fogginess as a side effect and went to the doctor with her to help review her meds. The main culprit was gabapentin that she was taking for neuropathy; it's been six weeks since she stopped taking it and she's pretty much back to normal.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:20 AM on November 6, 2017

if it does get to the point where she forgets to turn off the stove

There are products that address this, either as entirely new stove units or as aftermarket shut-off monitors.

I've asked her if I could go to her next doc appt with her and she's agreed (it still needs to be scheduled

Can you make that doctor's appointment while you're visiting? It's November, maybe your mom is due for a shot anyway (flu/pneumonia/shingles vaccine). Then you're not waiting on her to schedule it, and you know the exact date and time (which could become confused as she's relaying info to you) to accompany her.

has a c-pap machine - I haven't confirmed that she's using it.

Absolutely, sleep loss can contribute to memory loss, cognition problems (the ongoing, increasing disorganization), and even the pre-diabetes. Ask your dad if she's using the machine. This is crucial information -- if she's not using it because of a bad mask fit (really common), or if she's not clear on apnea's health impacts, or she's concerned about your dad's quality of sleep in their shared bedroom, or, or, or, her doctor needs to address her concerns.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:33 AM on November 6, 2017

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