Q. My 79-year-old father seems to be getting more confused all the time. I'm very worried he is getting Alzheimer's disease and, since he lives alone, I don't know what to do. Help!
A: First, don't jump to conclusions.
Various reasons could explain your father's disorientation and there's no reason to panic until you know the medical facts. Ask your dad to make an appointment with his doctor. Or, if he balks, suggest that you help him set that up. Maybe he is fearful of finding out the truth as well.
There could be a logical and medically treatable explanation. For instance, diabetes can cause disorientation. And, according to a study from North Carolina State University, high blood pressure spikes can lead to a decline in mental function.
In fact, increased blood pressure in older adults is directly related to decreased cognitive functioning, particularly among seniors with already high blood pressure, research reveals. This means that stressful situations may make it more difficult for some seniors to think clearly.
Dr. Jason Allaire, an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State, who co-authored the study, explains that study subjects whose average systolic blood pressure was 130 or higher saw a significant decrease in cognitive function when their blood pressure spiked.
However, Allaire notes, study subjects whose average blood pressure was low or normal saw no change in their cognitive functioning - even when their blood pressure shot up.
Specifically, Allaire said, the study shows a link between blood pressure spikes in seniors with high blood pressure and a decrease in their inductive reasoning.
Depending on what his doctor says, your dad might also want to heed this advice from Asenath LaRue, a senior scientist at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).
While there aren't many controlled clinical trials on ways to keep your brain in shape, she says a variety of observational studies point to three main preventive actions: be physically active, challenge your brain and stay socially active.
Your dad may need help to do all of that, so why not consider employing a companion. Home Instead Senior Care, for instance, hires CAREGivers who can keep seniors engaged by helping them participate in meaningful activities.
DeLauter is the owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving Lycoming and Clinton counties.