As we all spend more time together during the holiday season, you may notice your parent or loved one acting differently. The idea that your parent could be showing early signs of Alzheimer’s can be very concerning. However, we spoke with Pallavi Joshi, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, AZ, and he offered a bit of comforting advice: “Early detection is key for those showing signs of dementia. Seeing the early signs will give you and your loved one time to plan for the future and could open up clinical trials and non-medication options that may not be available to people with more advanced symptoms.”
Early signs of Alzheimer’s to watch for
According to Dr. Joshi, here is a short list of early signs that could indicate Alzheimer’s disease:
1. Rapid forgetting
You’re writing your lists and checking them twice. Everyone has a lot to keep track of this time of year. If your parent seems overwhelmed by tasks they once managed gracefully or if they require sticky notes and frequent reminder texts, this could be a sign of memory loss.
2. Uncharacteristic distancing
If your parent is usually the life of the party, standing on the sidelines during social events could be a sign that they are struggling to keep up with the conversation.
3. Anger and irritability
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is enough to send the happiest person over the edge from time to time. But if you notice that a loved one is constantly grumpy or quick to anger, this could be an early sign of memory problems.
4. Trouble in conversation
When chatting with your loved one during the holidays, are you repeating yourself more often than usual? Likewise, are they telling the same story again and again? These are signs of memory loss. Another sign could be trouble with words, like calling their wristwatch a “hand-clock.”
5. Confusion with plans
Time is a difficult concept for people with Alzheimer’s. An early sign could be new issues with punctuality or needing constant reminders for upcoming holiday events. Getting lost on their way to a familiar location could be another early sign.
6. Difficulty completing familiar tasks
Your mom’s homemade latkes have been a staple at every holiday meal since you were a kid. Is she struggling to assemble the right ingredients or cooking them for too long? Try cooking with your parent to see if they are easily confused by recipes they have always known by heart.
7. Agitation in high-energy situations
Blinking lights on the tree, pajama-clad kids running down the halls and Mariah Carey’s ever-present anthem playing in the background. The holiday season is full of cheer, but also stimulation. Dr. Joshi explained loud noises and bright lights can be overwhelming for people with growing signs of dementia.
Is it Alzheimer’s disease or are they just aging?
It can be hard to distinguish the typical signs of an aging mind from one suffering from early symptoms of dementia. “The key,” said Dr. Joshi, “is establishing a baseline. If your spouse or parent was always poor with directions, getting lost on the way to a restaurant may not be cause for concern. Pay close attention to new behaviors to spot trends.” Tracking new behaviors in a journal could be helpful in determining if something is a mounting trend or just an occasional mistake. When their thinking and memory struggles get in the way of everyday life, it’s time to start finding solutions.
Having a difficult conversation
Bringing up your concerns can be intimidating and even a little scary. Picking the right moment is key to having a successful conversation. Wait until your loved one is in a pleasant mood to discuss what you’ve been observing. Make it clear that your concern comes from a perspective of love and make sure that your loved one feels supported.
While this may be a difficult topic for you to discuss, it is likely more difficult for them to hear. If the conversation doesn’t go well at first, don’t be disheartened. These discussions will often require multiple conversations and could even benefit from other perspectives. Remind your loved one that you are here to help no matter what.
Love every moment
Dr. Joshi offered important advice for those hosting parents with any type of dementia during the holidays. “For those struggling with dementia, the holidays are as much about moments as they are about memories. As you celebrate, eat, and laugh together, enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. Although memory can be fleeting, the moments spent as a family are still just as precious.”
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