Source: Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast Chapter.
The holidays are a time of year when families come together, often for the first time in months or even years. That’s especially true this year, as COVID-19 vaccinations have now made it safer for people to travel and gather.
Many family members first notice signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia in their loved ones during these times of being reunited with one another. The Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast Chapter is urging people to know the warning signs and sharing tips for how to approach a loved one who may be showing symptoms.
“It is important that we pay attention to cognitive health and not dismiss any changes in ourselves or others around us as normal aging,” said Kathryn Cherkas, program director, Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast Chapter. “Any cognitive changes that are unusual for your level of functioning, or that of someone around you, is cause for concern. The symptoms may be caused by something else, but if they are caused by dementia, getting a timely diagnosis is beneficial for all who are involved.”
10 early signs and symptoms to be aware of:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life, e.g., struggling to retain recently learned information.
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems, e.g., no longer being able to follow basic instructions or directions.
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks, e.g., having a hard time writing a grocery list or remembering how to play a favorite game.
4. Confusion with time or place, e.g., not remembering where they are or how they got there.
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, e.g., difficulty with balance, depth or color and contrast.
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing, e.g., forgetting the names of familiar people/items and using descriptive words to refer to them instead.
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, e.g., leaving items in unusual places.
8. Decreased or poor judgement, e.g., paying less attention to personal hygiene and routine responsibilities.
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities, e.g., losing their confidence to engage in topics/interests and staying silent in conversations.
10. Changes in mood or personality, e.g., becoming increasingly fearful, suspicious or upset in normal situations.
The above list is intended to be a tool to help identify unusual changes in a person’s memory, thinking or behavior; it is important to note that this list does not constitute a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia. Always speak with your primary care provider, neurologist, psychiatrist or psychologist to assess further evaluation, if needed.
Tips for approaching memory concerns include:
Assess the situation. Reflect on what the person is doing – or not doing – that is out of the ordinary and causing concern. For example, did the person get lost in a familiar neighborhood or have trouble following a favorite family recipe? Reach out to other family members, especially those who see the person often, about any changes they have noticed. There might be something else going on, such as lifestyle or health changes, that could be contributing to new behaviors.
Take action through conversation. Consider who would be the best person to discuss the concerns. It could be a trusted family member, a friend or a combination. It’s usually best to speak one-on-one so that the person doesn’t feel threatened by a group, but use your best judgment to determine what will likely be most comfortable for the individual. Also consider what time and place would make the person most comfortable.
Think about what to say. Try engaging the person by asking questions, such as, “How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself. Have you noticed any changes?” Ask the person if he or she will see a doctor and show your support by offering to go to the appointment.
Reach out for help. The Alzheimer’s Association offers free resources, education programs, and a 24/7 Helpline (800.272.3900) staffed with master’s-level clinicians who can provide more information about how to discuss memory concerns with a loved one.