Signs of Dementia During the Holidays

The holiday season is a time when families gather and spend quality time with loved ones. It is also a time that can raise questions about the cognitive health of aging family members. With Alzheimer’s disease in particular, it is important to know what it is and what is not normal aging.  Below is a list of warning signs along with examples of normal aging.  If you notice any of the warning signs in your family members, it is recommended that you see a doctor.

Alzheimer’s Association 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or to record a television show.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Vision changes related to cataracts.

  1. 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”).

What’s typical: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses or the remote control.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Making a bad decision once in a while.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations.

  1. 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.

What’s typical: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias is an important step in getting appropriate treatment, care and support service.

Benefits of an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Benefit from treatments that may improve symptoms and help maintain a level of independence longer
  • Have more time to plan for the future
  • Increase chances of successfully finding a clinical drug trial through Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch, helping advance research
  • Participate in decisions about their care, transportation, living options, financial and legal matters
  • Develop a relationship with doctors and care partners
  • Benefit from care and support services, making it easier for them and their family to manage the disease

Anyone with questions about Alzheimer’s disease and/or seeking information should contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900.  Experts are available to take calls from individuals concerned with their own cognitive health as well as from family members and friends who may be concerned about a loved one and are seeking resources.

An Unexpected Journey

By: Dar Lehman

I was a caregiver for my husband, William, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2007 at the age of 77.  We began a journey that was totally unexpected. It affected not only him and me but also our children, grandchildren, extended family and friends for nearly 10 years.

None of us were acquainted with dementia. No one in our family had ever been diagnosed with this disease. It had started out harmlessly – he had begun to forget names and how to do basic things like balance a checkbook, which he had done all his life. This was quite a surprise given that William had taught thousands of children to work safely in a woodshop, commanded a military post, and served as a deacon. Little things like, misplacing his keys and losing the car in the parking lot were that much more surprising. We began losing the man we knew and loved little by little.

I began to notice small things that made me think something was not right with him. He needed help getting dressed, he lost his concept of time, he would get upset with small things, could not recall our phone number, dates, and he would sleep much of the time.

I asked our sons to watch their dad carefully when they visited us to see if they noticed anything out of the ordinary. They agreed that something was not right. At a regular doctor appointment, I informed his doctor of my concerns and described some of his behaviors. Instead of finding answers, I was told “Good luck with that,” so I began searching for a neurologist.  He thought my husband was suffering from delirium. I couldn’t understand what that meant, so we found a new doctor who finally confirmed that my husband had dementia. We had also found a new geriatric doctor who understood what we were dealing with. I had begun to attend a support group for caregivers for people with dementia, and that proved to be a great help over the next 10 years.

We had all begun to research this disease, getting information on the internet, at the library, through the support groups, and listening to speakers who held discussion groups. We gathered all the information we could find. Even the grandkids were doing research on the subject. We have learned a great deal as we traveled this journey.

People need to understand that this disease is not the same for everyone – and it is not something you simply surrender to. Everyone does not follow the same path – there is no timetable. The person you knew and loved is still inside – the disease simply takes over. Getting upset and angry won’t help. You need to cherish the time you have with each other, looking for the good in the midst of all the bad. It is there! Ask for help from others.

I cared for my husband at home for five years on my own. Our family was very helpful, but it was mostly me 24/7. After those five years, our sons finally stepped in to say it was time to get outside help. We were lucky to find Senior Helpers who found very compassionate, well-matched, patient caregivers to come three days a week for a few hours. That gave me some time to get away and do the things that I enjoyed. You need to have time away from the stress that is there all the time, physical, emotional, and spiritual, even if you don’t realize it.

Finally, when it got more complicated with other medical conditions, we decided it was time to find a facility where he would be able to get the help he needed, which I could no longer provide for him at home. We searched for the nearest, nicest place we could find, and he spent the last three years of his life in a memory care facility. I spent hours with him every day for the entire time he was there. It was like home to him. He never asked about coming home, nor was he ever unhappy there. He had always been very outgoing and happy, and that never changed. Our children and grandchildren also visited with him often. We attended every event they held there – monthly brunches, socials, holiday parties, and arts and crafts events. He and I went out to lunch, visited museums, parks, and anywhere else they arranged for the residents to attend.  They would always invite me to come along, so I did. Even if he wouldn’t remember, I could make memories for both of us.

Our faith was always a very important part of our lives. He had even been ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church. As a result, we had made friends with many wonderful priests over the years. William would get the biggest smile on his face whenever one of them would come to visit. He had lost the ability to have a conversation with them, but his expression said it all. Visits from the grandchildren would cause lots of smiles and laughter as well. Our faith and our many caring friends who supported us all along the way made it possible to complete our journey.

“Our Journey Together”

By: Brenda Samonds

Being my mom’s caregiver was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

I noticed her personality changes early on, as well as the forgetfulness and confusion. I worried that it was possibly Alzheimer’s disease, but it would be another five years before she was actually diagnosed. At the time, she lived on the east coast and I lived in central Illinois. Being a long distance caregiver was very stressful and hard for me. The Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline was my saving grace during this time. They answered my questions and guided me on what to do every step of the way. After several trips to see her it was obvious that her husband was in denial and unable to care for her, so we moved them both to Illinois.

Mom’s decline was rapid, and due to my own health issues, I had to make the choice to put her in a memory care center. They had apartments next door and where her husband resided. I spent most of my time taking care of her everyday needs. She did not always cooperate with the staff, so they were glad I was there because she would go along with whatever I said. As she progressed, I sat in on meetings on how to properly care for her and what needed to be done for her – i.e. physical therapy, occupational therapy, eating, bathing, etc. I took her to pray the rosary every Monday, out to eat, to music and party events, and on frequent long car rides.

We eventually built her a ramp at my house so I that could bring her back home. We would bake cookies, talk, nap, watch TV, and go out for car rides. When she could no longer feed herself, I fed her. When she couldn’t walk, I took her for walks in her wheelchair. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my mom. We were just taking things day by day, making memories and living in the moment. After about a year, her husband of 20 years realized she wasn’t going to get better and decided to move away. He handed over sole guardianship of my mother to me and asked for a divorce. The blessing of this disease was that she didn’t even notice he was gone or know what was happening. Mom eventually became bedridden, but I still tried to spend as much time with her as I possibly could. I bought her a CD player and headphones, and we would lay in bed together and listen to the music and sing. The music would liven her up when all she really wanted to do was sleep.

I kept a daily journal during our time together.  I wrote all about the good and the bad times that we had. My mom, unfortunately, passed away in only two short years, but I will always have the memories of our journey together.