We all want our parents to maintain independent living for as long as possible. But when we notice minor memory slips and other small signs of confusion among our parents, it's normal to worry a bit. Is our parent getting Alzheimer's disease? How much longer will independent living be an option? Are the memory slips just due to normal aging or will more eldercare be required?
Geriatric care faces serious challenges in recognizing, evaluating, and treating memory problems. While most of us have heard of Alzheimer's disease, you may or may not have heard of a milder condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which falls somewhere between normal aging and dementia due to Alzheimer's or another disease.
Someone with MCI can still maintain independent living but may have minor problems remembering things, following conversations, or staying organized without the use of lists, notes, and schedules. Parents with MCI can benefit from eldercare services such as chore services and social activities at senior centers.
MCI is Hard to Detect
There is still disagreement among geriatric care specialists over whether MCI should be a separate diagnosis. Some feel that MCI is simply normal age-related memory loss, and the line between the two is quite vague. Others feel that MCI is the same as early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Another problem in geriatric care is identifying memory problems in the first place. A recent study found that most tests used in geriatric care to detect memory problems like MCI tend to under identify the number of actual cases. The risk is that those with MCI will not be referred to eldercare services that could help them maintain independent living.
Does MCI Lead to Alzheimer's?
MCI also complicates eldercare because it is unknown whether MCI will actually progress to Alzheimer's disease. A recent Reuters article reported that while some people with MCI do eventually develop Alzheimer's, others stay the same and others actually improve. It is often difficult for geriatric care specialists to predict the course of memory impairment for an individual.
Has your parent been diagnosed with MCI? If so, have eldercare and geriatric care services helped your parent maintain independent living? Post a comment to this blog, and be sure to sign up for our email list to receive regular updates about new eldercare topics posted on EldercareABC.com.
-- Carrie L. Hill, Ph.D