It can be difficult to tell the difference between persistent memory loss and so-called "senior moments," which could be the excuse your mom leans on to blame or hide her growing cognitive deficits.
Your mom's memory problems might be subtle at first. She has trouble recalling words, naming objects or she starts to forget to pay bills. There are ways she cleverly might be trying to cover her persistent memory lapses.
You might notice that she refuses to do certain things with you that she has done with you with ease before. For instance, if she enjoyed playing a game like Scrabble, and was proficient in it, but no longer wants to engage in that game, that might be a clue she is experiencing some problems. Activities she once loved and were second-nature to her that now make her uncomfortable could mask some underlying deficits she is trying to hide.
You might find, too, that your mom is having difficulty driving or is getting lost on familiar routes to friends' homes or local grocery stores. Other family members or friends might step in with good intentions and make excuses or complete tasks for your mom to protect your mom and assist her in her cover-up.
Perhaps noticeable most often in individuals experiencing memory impairments is the denial. Your mom denies she has a problem, blaming it on getting older, stress or just being tired. The denial is her way of protecting and convincing herself that everything is fine.
The fear of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia looms and thoughts of her future might all combine to create a wall of repudiation, so she becomes very defiant with others about any lack of cognition.
Concealing memory deficits is also a way for your mom to cover her fear of losing her freedom and independence. Aging adults will often go to great lengths to disguise any health conditions, especially increasing difficulties with memory. The fear of a lifestyle change or being placed in a long-term care environment can drive your mom to provide myriad of excuses for her memory slips. Keeping a secret of her lack of recall can go on for a long time as she forms excuses and provides explanations for her lapses.
Possibly, however, she might not be in denial. Most people with memory impairment do not realize they have a problem. They lack awareness of the impairment, known as anosognosia, which affects up to 81 percent of individuals with Alzheimer's disease. Though anosognosia is difficult to define, researchers know it results from anatomical changes or damage to the part of the brain that affects an individual's perception of their own illness.
Understanding and being aware of your mom's symptoms and being empathetic in her denial and discomfort can pave the way for you to have an honest and open conversation with her. Though it is difficult, it is better to be prepared and have the discussion now than to wait until a crisis occurs.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at email@example.com or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.