9 Signs Your Aging Parent May Be Dealing With Cognitive Changes

There is something of a role reversal when you are an adult and your parents are moving into the latter years of their lives. You find yourself overseeing the welfare of your aging parent in a manner that has at least some similarities to the way your parents cared for you when you were younger. In that regard, when it comes to your aging parents, attention does need to be paid as to whether or not any evidence of cognitive decline is occurring. 

The reality is that mild memory issues are a type of cognitive decline that is a natural part of the normal aging process. On the other hand, there can be evidence of cognitive decline or occurrences that are beyond the norm. These more serious issues are what an adult child of an aging parent needs to focus on.

In this article, we provide you with a concise overview of the primary signs or symptoms that your parent may be facing some level of cognitive change. We address the nine more common signs that a parent may be dealing with cognitive issues or cognitive decline:

  • Social isolation
  • Changes in appearance
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Change in mood or personality
  • Challenges in solving problems or planning activities
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Misplacing items
  • Displaying poor judgment
  • Making profane or off-color comments

Social Isolation 

Social isolation is a primary sign that your parent may be dealing cognitive issues, at least to some degree. When an older person begins to have issues with memory, that individual may be inclined to withdraw from social activities. This can include social situations that historically have been enjoyed by that individual. This occurs because a person experiencing the early period of cognitive decline may have some issues keeping up with what is going on around him or her. If your parent is experiencing cognitive decline, he or she may desire to hide the fact that he or she is having memory issues with other people. 

Changes in Appearance

Another sign of cognitive decline is a change in appearance. If your parent seems to be lax in grooming and his or her physical appearance more generally, that can be a sign of an underlying cognitive issue. This occurs for a number of reasons that include:

  • An inability to fully focus on grooming and related issues
  • Memory lapses that cause a parent to forget to groom
  • Self-isolation that takes away the perceived need to groom regularly

Weight Gain or Weight Loss

If your parent is gaining or losing weight, this can be a sign of cognitive changes. (Keep in mind that unexplained weight gain or loss can also be a symptom of any number of other diseases, illnesses, or conditions. Therefore, if your parent is exhibiting unexplained weight gain or loss, you need to ensure that he or she makes an appointment with his or her doctor promptly.)

A number of things can be the outgrowth of cognitive decline that ends up resulting in weight changes. These include:

  • Inability to grocery shop
  • Inability to prepare a healthy meal
  • Forgetting to eat
  • Overeating

An inspection of the kitchen, including the refrigerator, can be helpful in ascertaining if your parent is having an issue with cognitive changes that is impacting his or her ability to maintain a healthy diet. 

Change in Mood or Personality 

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia affect parts of a person’s brain that controls such things as:

  • Overall mood
  • Overall personality
  • Propensity for depression
  • Propensity for anxiety
  • Propensity for confusion

As a consequence, if your parent exhibits a persistent mood change, including the emotional states noted a moment ago, this can be indicative of the onset of cognitive issues or even the early stages of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Challenges in Solving Problems or Planning Activities 

Challenges in solving problems or in planning activities can span a fairly wide swath of actions that historically have been relatively routine for your parent. Evidence of cognitive issues exhibited through these symptoms can include:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Inability to plan a meal
  • Inability to follow a recipe
  • Issues with planning more generally
  • Inability to get from one place to another easily
  • Inability to retrace steps

Confusion With Time or Place

Yet another sign that you have a parent who is facing cognitive issues is recurrent confusion with time or place. This isn’t merely occasional lapses – things we all experience. Rather, confusion over time and place is more significant. For example, your parent is befuddled by where he or she actually is at a particular time. 

Misplacing Items

Another common sign of your parent wrestling with cognitive issues involves misplacing items. Of course, we all misplace things from time to time. In the case of a person with cognitive issues, this type of item misplacement rises to the level of leaving items in truly unusual places. Placing a purse in the oven is an example of this level of item misplacement. 

Displaying Poor Judgment

Displaying poor judgment is another type of sign indicative of a parent with some level of cognitive issue. Unfortunately, a common example of displaying poor judgment is a parent who has been duped by a scammer. 

Making Profane or Off-Color Comments

A final type of sign that you parent may be dealing with cognitive changes is making profane or off-color comments. This particularly is the case if your mother or father does not have a history of making profane or off-color comments. In addition, if your parent did make off-color remarks from time to time, an indication that your mother or father is experiencing cognitive decline can be found in making these types of remarks in inappropriate settings like a church, synagogue, temple, or other religious or spiritual locations. 

If your mother or father is exhibiting signs of cognitive issues, you are well-advised to encourage your parent to make an appointment with his or her doctor. When some or all of these signs are on display in regard to your parent, a professional evaluation really is necessary.