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Esther Heerema, MSW

Home for the Holidays? Help Loved Ones by Spotting Signs of Early Dementia

By December 2, 2012

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In the next few weeks, many people will be heading off to visit relatives and friends for the holidays. This year, as you gather together with loved ones, pay attention to how they're really doing. Ask them a few questions, and take the time to really listen to their answers.

This serves two purposes. One: You're giving the gift of your time and attention. I don't know about you, but in my busy world, time is short and I'm often in a hurry. I'm sure this comes across even when I'm trying to be attentive and loving. Setting aside time to sit down together honors other people; it conveys that they are important.

The second purpose of this, especially if you have older parents or siblings, is to make sure that your loved ones really are doing well. According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's Disease strikes one out of eight adults over the age of 65 and almost half of those over age 85 in the United States.  There are also approximately 200,000 younger adults who struggle with early onset Alzheimer's. So, depending on what age your loved ones are, being vigilant is an appropriate and caring response to those statistics.

Now, that doesn't mean that the first memory slip-up  or forgotten word should sound the alarm; occasional lapses in these areas are normal, especially as we age. More telling may be how your family member is functioning in her daily routines. Gaps in those areas that are newer should trigger some concern.

More Information

9 Tips for Spotting Dementia at Family Gatherings: Pay Attention to These Subtle Signs -  This article shares several practical examples of cognitive and behavior changes you might see if your loved one is struggling with symptoms of early stage dementia.

It's also important to distinguish between signs of delirium (a treatable, reversible confusion) and dementia, so I've outlined several differences between the two here: What's the Difference Between Delirium and Dementia? I've also listed some specific ways to identify delirium in someone who already has dementia.

Feel free to comment below if you have further thoughts or questions about your loved one's symptoms.

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