SPOTLIGHT: Is it just a “senior moment”?

SPOTLIGHT: Is it just a “senior moment”?


According to the most recent 2017 census, the average age of farmers is estimated to be 57.5 years old – continuing a long-term trend for overall aging in the United States. Aging leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, and there is a growing risk of developing age-related diseases or conditions. One of many concerns with aging is the onset of dementia. Is it just a senior moment or the beginning stages of dementia? How do farmers and caregivers cope with dementia and safety concerns on the farm?  

Kanika Arora, Ph.D. and Associate Professor at the University of Iowa offers background on this topic and provides practical safety guidelines to use when working or living with someone who is experiencing signs and symptoms of the disease. This article was published in the September 2022 issue of the Alive and Well Newsletter by our colleagues at the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health.

Dementia and Farm Safety by Kanika Arora, PhD, Associate Professor, Health Management and Policy

Over 66,000 older Iowans are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common type of dementia. Additionally, over 73,000 Iowans provide unpaid informal care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive brain disease with gradually worsening symptoms, including problems with memory, compromised reasoning and judgment, impaired gait, difficulties with spatial and temperature perception, language deficits, and unpredictable behavior (such as wandering, anxiety, and aggression). Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for help with basic activities of daily living.

Recent work has shown that relative to other occupations, older adults with longest-held jobs in agricultural occupations experience greater odds of developing dementia. Safety is a major concern for older adults working and living on the farmstead. Dementia-related problems with memory, judgment, and mood may compound safety concerns in already hazardous farm environments, placing farm families at an even greater risk for incidents and injuries.

If you or your loved one recently received an AD/dementia diagnosis, here are some tips for staying productive and safe on the farm:

  • As an employer, it is important to communicate with employees and family members who assist with the business.
  • Take safety measures by installing safety rails where possible. Lock specific doors to prevent access to hazardous areas.
  • Use simple safety signs like “STOP,” “HOT” or “WATCH YOUR STEP” as attention reminders.
  • Be alert for signs of wandering, as six out of ten persons with AD will wander.
  • Be cautious of introducing new equipment, as changes to controls can be confusing and may risk injury.
  • Discuss the need to safely store firearms among family members and develop an action plan.

If you suspect your spouse, parent, or loved one has dementia, it is a good idea to see a doctor. Treatment during earlier stages may improve your loved one’s health and potentially delay further cognitive decline. If you are a farm family touched by AD/dementia and are interested in injury prevention for these vulnerable farmers, please contact Dr. Kanika Arora, (319) 384-3817, kanika-arora@uiowa.edu.