Jan 1, 2014

Five Reasons to Keep Records on Your Loved One with Memory Issues

I can't stress enough the importance of keeping records in behalf of the ones you love.

By Elaine C. Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Most of us remember our high school or college days and the barrage of writing they required; taking endless notes, drafting essays and more.

Five Reasons to Keep Records on Your Loved One with Memory Issues

If we never saw another pencil, blue book or stack of sticky notes again, it would be great!

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Even computer technology doesn’t completely eliminate the need for the readily available, albeit old fashion pencil and paper.

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At a minimum, calendars help us organize our life and we’re lost without it.

Whether you use an iPhone appointment app or a more traditional pocket reminder, taking stock of our schedule requires input. And who goes to the grocery store with just their memory and a wallet? No one, or we’d come home with chips and chicken but no shampoo or shaving cream.

Helping our kids or our selves stay organized is a “necessary evil” sometimes.

However rarely do we expect to have to manage our parents.

In fact it often makes us feel uncomfortable to question their whereabouts or decisions. For decades, they watched over us as children growing up. The reverse, being a parent to your parent, is disconcerting but another “necessary evil” sometimes.

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Particularly for someone you suspect is experiencing memory loss and/or exhibiting questionable judgment, taking stock of these incidents is crucial. Specifically, I recommend five noteworthy areas of potential concern.

I can't stress enough the importance of keeping records in behalf of the ones you love.

If it’s in your nature to be organized, then keeping a log comes effortlessly. But if you’re not, let me emphasize that the benefits of having what you need when you need it, far out weighs your angst and effort.

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Whether you jot notes on a napkin or your iPhone, getting the information recorded and dated is tantamount to their safety and your sanity.

  1. Out-of-character! Note any odd or unusual behaviors or remarks. In every case of eventual debilitating Dementia there is a first incident. More than likely it’s something strange but benign and possibly also funny, but out-of-character nonetheless.
  2. My mother’s first family witnessed example of confusion was several years before she exhibited undeniable Alzheimer’s. When Mom visited her nephew in Arizona, she became very confused and thought she was "at home" in Michigan. According to my cousin, she wandered through his house clearly bewildered looking for her "apartment."
  3. Personality Changes. Unfortunately most individuals experience adverse changes in their demeanor with the onset of Alzheimer’s including irritability, hostility and anger. It’s important to record these changes. As much as we don’t want to acknowledge deteriorating attitudes, burying your head in the proverbial sand does a disservice in the long run to your parent.
    “My mom's calm, kind demeanor started to erode and atypical flashes of paranoia and anger emerged.”
  4. Suspicion and Paranoia. Although also personality changes, paranoia and suspicion are particularly indicative of potential Alzheimer’s. Be attentive to and make note of accusations that someone is stealing things especially essentially worthless items.
  5. “Soon, reports of missing items began. First was the clothes caper when Mom insisted: ‘two pair of brown pants were stolen.’ ‘They stole my stamps; seven dollars worth!’ But the coup de grĂ¡ce was a nail file! Seriously, a nail file?”
  6. Medical. At a minimum, you need the names, phone numbers and city of your parent’s physicians. Jot down their medications if you can. Some people are transparent and others are private, so this can be a delicate area. But regardless the underlying message is empowering yourself to be informed in order to make the “right” decisions in your parent’s behalf.
  7. Getting lost/Wandering. Getting lost driving and/or wandering aimlessly are serious safety concerns. If they still drive (another difficult subject) take note of the make, model and license plate number of their vehicle. You may have to Lo Jack it or “misplace” the keys.

    “My mother wandered outside of her locked assisted living setting for five hours in twenty-five degree temperatures before being found with severe hypothermia.”
The clear underlying message in this article is the importance of being aware of your parent’s health issues particularly when memory and judgment are declining

And one of the best ways to stay informed is through a journal.

Whether you are meticulously organized with color-coded notebooks or have a gazillion scraps of paper in a shoe box, as long as you have and date the information, you’re empowered.

One day, you might have to make some hard decisions for someone else and you will be grateful that the information you need it is available.

 A bonus benefit of having a dated record is the ability to see in chronological order the increasing frequency and seriousness of the journal entries. You may need this documentation to convince a doubting sibling or your parent’s spouse.

“What had once been a note every six months, had escalated into a daily log of serious and life threatening issues.”

Read more about my Journaling efforts, unwitting mistakes and Mom’s phenomenal drama in I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia
+Elaine Pereira , MA OTR/L CDP CDC, is a retired school occupational therapist who worked with special needs children. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Wayne State University and later completed her master’s degree. Pereira and her husband live in Michigan.  

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