Seniors Caring for Pets; Is this normal behaviour or is it the start of elderly dementia?

by Jill
(Hamilton, Ontario Canada)

My mother used to be very particular about cleanliness. But in the last few years she lets any pets "do their business" in her apartment. She actually had to give up two dogs. Now she has a bird and lets it fly around and do the same thing. She is not forth coming in cleaning up.

Is it common in the elderly to change habits or is it likely the result of something else? Personal hygiene is also a factor and concern.

Do you think this might be a symptom of elderly dementia?

REPLY from
Great question, Jill. Elderly can have a change of habit as they age but it could also indicate some forms of cognitive impairment such as vascular dementia.

Changes in cleanliness can be a symptom of elderly dementia. It's best to have her assessed by her doctor and an occupational therapist.

Changes in habits such as personal hygiene can sometimes be explained by cognitive or physical changes. I would discuss the situation with her doctor and ask that she/he complete a cognitive assessment/screen and have an occupational therapist do a functional assessment in her home.

There are 2 common cognitive screening tools that might be used prior to a full assessment:
1) MMSE - Mini Mental State Examination
2) MoCA - Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

They can give an indication if your mother has some cognitive issues that could explain the change in behaviour re: decreased pet and self hygiene. It will also give you an idea as to if she needs more supports (personal care, meals, cooking, etc).

The occupational therapist can assess how your mother is functioning at home and recommend any equipment/supports that will make it safer for her. Occupational therapists can also do the MMSE or MoCA assessment as well as a kitchen/cooking/self care assessment.

If her cognition is "normal" for her age/education, it could be that she is physically unable to keep her house, pets and self as clean as before. She may need housekeeping and other supports to assist her.

There is more information on this website regarding home safety and cognition.

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