Whether you gathered as a family for Thanksgiving or are planning something big for Christmas, this season is a time for spending quality time with those you care about and are close to relationally. Unfortunately, as we get older and form families and meaningful relationships of our own, own a home, and have full-time work commitments, we do not always get to see our parents on a regular basis. While we may still idolize them, or think of them as awe-inspiring figures that time will never touch – that is often not the case. Thus, Christmastime and the holidays, in general, can become a sensitive moment in time where children realize that their parent or parents are showing signs of aging.
Thinking about your parent or loved one with a disease like Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia can be overwhelming and stressful. We care a great deal for our parents and the thought of them slipping into the throes of a degenerative disease is heart-wrenching. Maybe while you are visiting for Christmas, you notice the house is not as well-kept as the last time you visited, or through a conversation, you learn Mom has forgotten to pay a few bills. Take a deep breath and understand that a few occasional instances of poor judgment or forgetfulness do not equate to Alzheimer's. However, in some cases, they can be leading indicators that you should seek medical counsel. Let's take a look at ten symptoms of Alzheimer's you should watch for when visiting with your parents during the holidays:
Memory Loss that Disrupts Day-to-Day Life
Memory loss is one of the most commonly recognized signs of Alzheimer's. However, occasionally forgetting information does not mean your parent has Alzheimer's. Look for signs of memory loss that are disrupting their daily life – like continuously missing appointments, forgetting names of people they interact with on a regular basis, or increasingly relying on memory aids like post-it notes or alarms.
Struggling to Solve Problems
As people age, their ability to process new information slows down gradually. Things that once were second nature to them may take a bit more time or concentration. It is also common to feel overwhelmed when learning something new – like how to program the latest iPhone. However, someone experiencing early stages of Alzheimer's may no longer be able to complete regular tasks, such as following a recipe or balancing a checkbook, without making critical errors.
Difficulty Completing Familiar Tasks
While visiting your parents during the holidays, ask to accompany them on errands or while doing their daily routine. People who are beginning to show symptoms of Alzheimer's often exhibit confusion while completing normal behaviors. If your mom has trouble finding the grocery store that she visits on a weekly basis, or if she cannot seem to remember how to turn on or off the stove, it may be time to see a doctor.
Confusion with Time or Place
When you are retired (or even on vacation), it is not out of the ordinary to lose track of the day of the week – but remembering later. However, people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia may become confused about years, dates, or even places. A parent living with Alzheimer's may comment about wanting to go ‘home' when they are home or reference someone who has long since passed.
Misunderstanding Visual and Spatial Cues
When spending time with your loved one, pay attention to how well they move around. Do they shuffle their feet? Do they have trouble in low light settings? Are they struggling with driving? All of these can be signs that they are developing problems with visual and spatial relationships that affect their mobility. Alzheimer's can cause people to lose their ability to accurately judge the depth of an object as well as telling contrasting colors. However, be aware that just because your parent needs glasses or has recently developed cataracts does not mean they will have Alzheimer's disease.
Struggling with Written or Spoken Word
We have all been there – when there's a word on the tip of our tongue, but we cannot seem to remember, so we substitute another one and then go on to remember the original word after the conversation has moved on. This is totally normal. However, if you notice your parent increasingly losing his or her vocabulary it may be cause for concern. Someone experiencing Alzheimer's symptoms may create their own words in place of the ones they cannot remember. For example, calling a watch a ‘hand-clock.'
Someone living with Alzheimer's often loses items and are unable to find them later. While we all may misplace our keys from time to time, we can retrace our steps to determine where we left them last. If you notice your parent putting items in places they do not belong, like their keys in the refrigerator, or becoming increasingly paranoid about people ‘stealing' things – you may want to reach out to their doctor.
Exhibiting Poor Judgement
A person experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease may increasingly make poor decisions. Some examples may be leaving the stove on after cooking, giving money away to telemarketers, or getting in a traffic accident. It is essential, as children, that we are diligent in being our parents' advocates. Whether that is speaking to them about potential scams, monitoring their finances, or knowing when they need an extra care – we need to keep an eye on their well-being and their decision-making skills.
Withdrawing from Social Interactions
While visiting your parents for the holidays, ask them about their social circle. ‘Who are your friends?’, ‘Have you seen them lately?’, and ‘What do you do for fun?’ are all good questions to get the conversation started. Keeping a pulse on their social wellness will give you a good idea of how they are feeling. As we discussed, a person showing signs of Alzheimer’s may experience limited mobility and struggles with communication which can lead to them withdrawing from social interactions – whether it be work-related, family-related, or friend-related.
Changes in Mood or Personality
Finally, Alzheimer’s disease can cause mood and personality changes. Feelings of confusion, suspicion, frustration, anxiety, and depression can completely alter your parent’s personality. Be mindful when visiting of any dramatic shifts in their demeanor as they can be signs of a much bigger problem.
After visiting your parents for the holidays, if you feel like Mom or Dad are exhibiting two or more signs that we mentioned above, we recommend speaking with their doctor about your concern. While there is currently not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early detection can help minimize symptoms and prolong life. The HarborChase team is available to assist you during the aging process. Many of our communities offer resources, as well as memory care services, for families coping with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. For more information on what the HarborChase team can do for your family, please contact us.