With over 5 million Americans living with dementia, chances are you know someone living with memory impairment – whether you’re aware of it or not! The stigma of dementia is still prevalent in our society, leading many to hide their diagnosis, or avoid asking the doctor in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that your neighbor may not need your help. If you’re concerned about a forgetful neighbor, here are some signs to look for.
Noticeable short-term memory loss
It’s normal for your neighbor to forget the name of your cousin that visited last summer. But are they asking for your name even though they’ve been your neighbor for ten years? Or retelling a story they’ve told you four times this week?
Increasing difficulty with tasks and activities
Sure, we all struggle to lift that 15th bag of mulch. But less about physical tasks, maybe you’re noticing they’re struggling to get the hose to work properly. Or pulling out flowers when they intend to be weeding? Tasks that have a lot of steps seem to be harder for your neighbor to accomplish. They may also attempt tasks that are unsafe not realizing the danger.
Changes in personality and mood
Is your calm, easy-going neighbor suddenly annoyed at any neighborhood dog that barks? Or seemingly frightened or uncomfortable being home alone? We often just think of memory loss as the only sign of dementia, but changes in mood or personality can signal a problem if you are seeing them repeatedly and they are different than what would be considered typical of the person.
Difficulty finding the right words or participating in conversation
Once the person who knew what everyone was up to, and now they’re not sharing as many stories? Or maybe they keep stumbling over their words? Using a lot of “that thing” or “the whatchamacallit” for relatively simple words? Many people tend to withdrawal from conversation rather than admit that they’re struggling.
Noticeable changes in behavior or routine
Did your neighbor leave their hose running even though they finished with their task hours ago? Are they making unsafe decisions like going for a walk outside not properly dressed for the weather? Or leaving their door open or lights on all night? Perhaps your very active neighbor is rarely seen outside anymore. While this can certainly just signal a change in the family routine, it could also be a sign that your neighbor is adjusting to life with memory loss.
So how can I help?
Keep in touch! Memory loss or not, it’s always good to be a good neighbor. When you’re talking with your neighbor, keep language simple and provide orienting information at the beginning of the conversation if needed. Listen carefully, and help fill in the blanks. Reading their body language and keeping the conversation friendly can help put them at ease. If you’re comfortable, you can always provide Insight Memory Care Center as a resource. We provide free memory screenings and consultations, along with many other services for those living with memory impairment.
If you’re legitimately worried about the person’s safety, especially if they’re living alone or you think their memory impairment may be affecting their living conditions, you can call Adult Protective Services. Intake workers can help with keeping the individual safely at home for as long as possible, arranging out-of-home placement if appropriate, or helping link them to appropriate resources to maintain independence.
Lindsey Vajpeyi is the Director of Education and Outreach at Insight Memory Care Center