Does Mom Have Memory loss?

A simple two-part test that can help with early detection.

We hear it over and over – families kind of realize that Mom (or Dad!) is slipping, but  no one actually confronts the issue until there is a car accident or some other strange occurrence like Dad knocking on the neighbor’s door because he can’t find his way home from the mail box.

Long Term Care Claims

Long Term Care Claims

Well, what are the signs?  Just because someone forgets to bring the pie to the Holiday dinner (for the second year in a row!), it doesn’t mean the person has dementia.  However, if that same person starts showing logic problems (like they forgot to put the sugar in the pie when they baked it so they just sprinkled it on top afterwards as if that would work just as well) or they stop recognizing familiar places or people, then these are signs that a person may need a more thorough exam by a doctor.  However chronic shot-term memory loss, constant repetition of the same story or conversation piece, wild mood swings and increased irritability, or even blurred vision or balance issues can also be signs of brain conditions.

There are many standardized tests designed to measure a person’s cognitive loss.  Two of the most common are called the 3-word recall test and the clock test.  Both of these can be done at home even by an untrained person and give you some idea if further testing is warranted.

  • 3-word recall test: you give a series of everyday words to a person and ask them to use the word in a sentence.  At the end of this activity, you talk about something else for a minute or two and then ask them what those words were.  Folks with normal cognition should be able to remember all three words.  This is short-term memory recall.
  • Draw a simple clock face with the hands showing an hour or quarter hour (i.e. like 3:00pm or 3:45pm) on a piece of paper. Ask the person to recreate that clock on a separate piece of paper after having looked at your version. This is both short-term memory recall as well as simple puzzle solving or logic.  The person must both remember the time AND translate that to a spatial drawing on a separate piece of paper.  Normal cognition should be able to show clearly short and long hands pointing at the same area of the clock as the original picture.  Deviation could indicate further testing is needed.

Lastly, we recommend that EVERY senior take advantage of Medicare’s free annual exam.  Under the Affordable Care Act from 2011 onward, every person on Medicare is entitled to an annual exam that will include a cognitive screen as a normal part of the exam.  These early measures become base lines to compare against as/when cognition starts to decline.

If you are family noticing any of these types of changes, we recommend that you go with your parent to the doctor and mention (as privately as possible) your concerns or any observations you have made.  This will not create a diagnosis – but the doctor sees your family member for only a few minutes while you see them more regularly and over longer periods of time.  Your observations can often help the doctor determine if further testing is warranted.


Some Additional Links to help you

Leave a Reply