Women, aging, and memory care; what to look for, what to do

Susan Ann Stauffer peaks to nearly 80 women about aging and memory at the American Association of University Women monthly luncheon, Courtyard by the Marriott, St. George, Utah, Feb. 2, 2015 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

ST GEORGE – A panel of experts convened Monday to discuss memory and aging in women at the monthly American Association of University Women luncheon.

Women today are living longer than ever before and with longevity comes the inevitable discussion of memory loss. By knowing what signs to look for, panelists said, seniors and their loved ones can assess whether loss of memory is normal for a person’s age, or a symptom of a much larger problem that requires a doctor’s care.

Memory loss happens to everyone, but when it disrupts the daily life of an individual, there may be a reason to investigate further, said panelist Anita Stiens, volunteer community educator for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We can have memory deficits,” Stiens said. “But if it doesn’t bother us, and we can function in the same way we always did, we don’t have dementia.”

Dementia is a blanket term used to describe a wide range of symptoms that are associated with a “decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with our daily function,” Stiens said.

Presenting the audience with a list of warning signs to watch for, she explained that, in order for memory loss to be considered dementia, at least two of the warning signs must be present. It is important to consider what would make one of the warning signs normal, or abnormal for each individual – there are no cookie-cutter answers.

To evaluate the relevance of any symptom of memory loss, consider if there has been:

  • an increase in frequency of occurrence
  • an impact on daily function and livelihood
  • a change from past behavior

“For instance, if you’ve always gotten lost going somewhere, it doesn’t mean it’s dementia, it means it’s nothing new for you,” she said.

Stiens shared a story about an elderly neighbor who loved to walk, but couldn’t, because she could no longer remember her way home. The neighbor’s inability to do something she had done before having memory loss is a good example of a symptom exhibiting all three criteria that would indicate a larger problem than a normally aging mind.

Alzheimer’s accounts for nearly 80 percent of diagnosed dementia, Stiens said. Diagnosis is important because there are a many different types of dementia and some of them are highly treatable, even reversible in some cases.

“If you have some concerns for yourself or a loved one don’t ignore that,” Stiens said. “It is not a normal part of aging … know that many forms of dementia are pseudo-dementias and they can be treated and cured,” she said.

If a loved one is showing signs of dementia, the first step towards helping that person is research, and a lot of it, said Patrick Sapio, Dixie Regional Hospital Live Well Center Active Aging Lecture Series coordinator.

There are a number of groups that can offer services, guidance and support in Southern Utah, Sapio said. Knowing the resources that are available and understanding current research can go a long way towards early diagnosis and getting the best care for a person with possible dementia.

Geriatric social workers are available to help connect families with resources throughout the Southern Utah region, and their knowledge is invaluable, said Susan Ann Stauffer, a Utah State University social work program associate instructor, Journey of Hope Hospice medical social worker and Crones Council president.


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