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Aging, Confusion & Forgetfulness

  Anyone who is more than 30 years old, and perhaps even some who are younger than that have experienced moments of confusion. When was the last time the you mixed up a day?  Or how about the time...  Sometimes we can contribute it to something simple, like Daylight Savings Time.  Other times we have a change in our regular schedule and it jumbles things up in our heads.   Women tend to experience it on a more regular basis when they’re pregnant and the hormones are taking over their bodies, or when menopause kicks in.  Everyone experiences it if they are suffering from lack of sleep due to a newborn or from taking care of a loved one during an extended illness.  If you have gone through prolonged times like this, you understand on a deeper level what it is like to feel confused.  It is unsettling for the person that it is happening to.  It always makes me feel insecure when it happens & I’m very grateful if there is someone around to reassure me that I’m not losing my mind.

  As we watch those around us age, it is important to take note of several things in their lives that can contribute to confusion and forgetfulness so that we can help to reassure them & make them feel more at ease.  Sometimes what they’re experiencing is a natural occurrence, which we’ll talk about below. Sometimes it is pointing to a more serious illness that they’ll need to combat.  In either case, compassion, grace & reassurance are the best ways to handle the situation.

 The people you are helping to care for are many decades older than you are.  They’ve seen more in their lifetimes than most people can dream of.  They’ve catalogued huge amounts of change into their brain during that time, some of it interesting to them, & other data that is on the periphery, there- but of little importance in their immediate life.  Aging people who have been living on their own in an isolated manner often have a narrower scope of life as they are at ease to only pay attention to what interests them.  If they get to the point where they need to have in home care or go into assisted living, it changes this, as their interactions become broader & it may be temporarily troubling to them that they seem to know less about the world outside of the one of their own making. They may exhibit periods of confusion & seeming forgetfulness.  This may not mean that anything is wrong with them, but simply that it will take some time to re-adjust to life that involves more people in diverse settings.

  Confusion and forgetfulness can also be exhibited when days, months & years no longer hold much meaning.  We’ve all had the feelings of confusion when we’ve mistaken which day it is.  It often happens to us when our routine is upset.  With older people, though, it can happen for a variety of reasons.  If their days are so similar to one another & there is not much of importance happening, there is really no reason to keep track of the days of the week.  Think about if you didn’t have a job or other activities of interest to you. Would you pay close attention to the passage of the days?  What would make one day different from the others?  Even months and years pass with less activities and less to look forward to.  After all, when you’ve lived 80 or 90 years, what is one week?!

  It can also occur when there is a change in routine or situation.  Moving from one’s own home into an apartment or another arrangement can be a common time for confusion and forgetfulness to surface.  Having to change everything from the route you take to reach the bathroom, to memorizing a new home telephone number after you’ve had the same one for 40 plus years can be very taxing on an aging brain.  If you add in any kind of emotional anxiety or disappointment from the move, or any injury that predicated the move, you can see why confusion might ensue.  In your dealing with people going through these things, show patience and compassion.  They are far more frustrated with their confusion and forgetfulness than you could ever be. 

  If you start to notice forgetfulness on a broader scale and for prolonged time periods, talk to their doctor.  There might be some indications for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease that they’d like you to keep an eye on.  But even if they do have one of these diseases, remember to be reassuring as often as possible.  That feeling of confusion that you have when it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath you and perhaps the whole world is playing a joke on you because you’ve lost your place in time is not a fun feeling to have.  Orientation in time is an important part of keeping our equilibrium in life.  When if feels as if it’s slipping, it is scary.  People act differently when they feel scared or insecure.  Some will cry more, others will want someone around all the time, and still others will be cantankerous and angry.  Deal with each situation as it comes, but do it as kindly as you can muster.  One day you will be in a similar position, facing the challenges of aging, and you’ll want others to treat you kindly too.

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