Autumn 2002
Ask the Nurse: How Do I Know If My Parent Needs Special Help?

Mary Cilio, RN, MSWMy dad sometimes seems a little forgetful—and sometimes he seems sharper than I am! How do I know if his memory lapses are a sign of something serious, or just normal absent-mindedness?

Mary Cilio, RN, MSW (Masters in Social Work), of Bridgeport Hospital's Fairfield County Senior Care Center, replies:

If a little forgetfulness is your father's only symptom, it is probably not time to start worrying. However, as a nurse who cares for older adults with mental confusion, I know that you're wise to be alert to possible signs of physical or mental frailty. If signs do begin to show up, an early assessment by a geriatrician (physician specializing in the healthcare of older adults) can help to preserve your father's independence.

Here are some symptoms that might call for an appointment with a geriatrician:

  • Not remembering to do routine things like getting dressed or taking a bath.
  • Having trouble paying bills or balancing the checkbook.
  • Repeatedly asking the same questions even though they've been answered.
  • Calling close friends or family members by the wrong name.
  • Making poor choices or decisions, such as not feeding a pet.
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Misplacing things—carrots in the silverware drawer, for instance.
  • Inappropriate anger; mood swings; irritability.
  • Wandering or pacing activity.
  • Inability to find the words to express a thought.
  • Frequent falls.
  • Loss of weight.
  • Sleeping problems.

Sometimes problems such as these can be brought about by improper dosages or combinations of medications, or by other problems that can be resolved. And sometimes, these problems can mean that your older loved one does need special assistance to maintain independence as long as possible. So if you start to notice any of these symptoms, a geriatric assessment is a good first step toward proper care and treatment.

For a referral to a geriatrician, call Kristen Malinouskas, business coordinator, at 203-384-3388.

Bridgeport Hospital's Fairfield County Senior Care Center offers daytime care and support for older adults who are suffering from mental confusion. For a tour of the center, or for information, call Kristen Malinouskas at 203-384-3388.