For most Americans, Thanksgiving is the official kick-off of the holiday season and, as we have seen on the news, millions travel the country to be with their relatives. For those with older family members, these trips provide an excellent opportunity to make a checklist of their physical and mental health. The holidays are a time of joyous celebration. Most people do not want to ruin the occasion by dwelling on such serious matters. However, with busy schedules and perhaps long distances, getting together in person may only be limited to seasonal visits. Let’s face it, no one wants to think of his or her parents as getting older or his or her beloved grandparents declining in health. It can be very easy to slide into denial, especially during the holiday season. Some illnesses and ailments are much more apparent to those afflicted and to even those around them, while others, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia may not be.
For decades, the majority of the symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s were relegated to general terms such as “old age” and “senile.” They were an accepted fact of aging and not much done about them. In today’s’ world, the seriousness of this disease is well known, and more people are aware. However, early signs of dementia can be difficult to detect, even to doctors. The sheer multitude of symptoms, some subtle, can appear to be the result of other diseases or aging as was once believed. Spotting these symptoms in their earlier stages can be very beneficial for everyone. As with most diseases, early detection is paramount when diagnosing and treating. Though currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the progression can be slowed considerably through proper treatment.
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Knowing what to look for will make it easier to determine if there are any issues. No one wants to spend their entire visit dissecting every move and decision a parent or grandparent makes. As a family member, you probably already know them very well; their habits, their moods, their likes, and so forth. Being attuned to any differences will allow you to enjoy your time. If an action or occurrence does happen to trigger suspicion, then communicate with a trusted family member to see if they notice a change. Sometimes those that spend much time together may not see what is right in front of them. It is similar to someone gaining weight. Those people who see you every day may not notice the gradual change; however, you may run into an acquaintance you have not seen in years, and they notice the change immediately. It may take someone who is not part of the daily life of the individual to be able to detect any problems. Regardless, everyone should be aware of the most common signs and be open to moving forward when detected. Doctors and experts use an essential list of ten signs to help determine if someone has developed Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. You and your family should use these as a guideline when assesing a loved one’s condition:
Alzheimer’s Association 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on one’s own.
- Challenges in planning or solving problems. Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. People with Alzheimer’s often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
- Confusion with time or place: People with Alzheimer’s can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer’s. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not realize they are the person in the mirror.
- New problems with words in speaking or writing. People with Alzheimer’s may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name (e.g., calling a “watch” a “hand-clock”).
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. A person with Alzheimer’s disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
- Decreased or poor judgment. People with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
- Changes in mood and personality. The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer’s can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.
Making the most of the holidays can mean more than just celebrating and catching up with relatives. Using the time to insure the health and well being of loved ones can be a great benefit for the entire family.
Do you suspect that someone you know may have dementia or Alzheimer’s? What are the signs? Have you discussed your concerns with the individual? Others? We would love to hear your experiences in this matter.