Recognizing cognitive decline

Dear Annie: How do you determine whether an associate is experiencing some memory loss, dementia or cognitive decline? With a close longtime friend, you can usually note a change from the person’s normal functioning. But if you became friends with someone during the retirement years, you often don’t know what someone’s level of functioning or personality was like in earlier years. In an organization, church or club, an older adult may have committed to doing a job, become unable to do what’s required yet want to keep his or her hat in the ring and save face. We wonder how to approach this with kindness and practicality.

It is a wonderful idea to focus on issues facing older adults. There are so many of them, and the numbers are growing rapidly. Thank you for your interest. — Jane M.

Dear Jane: Judging by your letter, you’re naturally thoughtful. Let that innate sense of empathy steer you and you won’t go far astray. If a friend of yours shows signs of memory loss, talk to the friend one-on-one, and use gentle, non-accusatory language. Stick to phrases such as “I noticed you seem to be having difficulty with scheduling lately” rather than ”You keep forgetting our plans.” Similarly, if someone in a club to which you belong repeatedly fails to fulfill duties he or she signed up for, talk to that person privately and offer to help out. The more gingerly you handle the subject the less likely the person is to become defensive — but there’s still no guarantee on that. Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at (800-272-3900) for more information on navigating this issue.

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