Visiting with relatives over the holidays may raise questions about the physical and cognitive health of family members. Although some change in cognitive ability can occur with age, serious memory problems are not part of normal aging. Recognizing the difference between normal aging and more serious problems can help identify when it may be time to see a doctor.
The Alzheimer's Association Western New York Chapter expects to see a rise in calls to its 24-hour helpline (800-272-3900) during and after the holiday season when people visit friends and family whom they may not have seen frequently during the year.
"The 10 Warning Signs are a good place to start when trying to decide if what you notice requires medical intervention for yourself or a loved one," says Chapter Executive Director Leilani Pelletier, MS.
There can be other explanations for cognitive impairments, but it is best to see a physician if any of these 10 Warning Signs are apparent:
• Memory loss that disrupts daily life: forgetting recently learned information; forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; or relying on memory aides
• Challenges in planning or solving problems: changes in the ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers, or trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks: driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
• Confusion with time or place: people with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time or forget where they are or how they got there.
• Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships: difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast.
• New problems with words in speaking or writing: trouble following or joining a conversation or stopping in the middle of a conversation and not being able to continue; repetitive comments; struggles with vocabulary
• Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps: putting things in unusual places, such as ice cream in the medicine cabinet or being unable to trace steps to find a misplaced object and accusing someone of taking it
• Decreased or poor judgment: changes in judgment or decision-making, especially when dealing with money; inattention to personal care and grooming
• Withdrawal from work or social activities: refraining from favorite hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports
• Changes in mood and personality: confusion, suspicion, depression, fear, anxiety or irritability may occur without apparent cause
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias is an important step in getting treatment, care and support services.