Forgetfulness or Alzheimer’s? How to Tell the Difference When Visiting Elderly Loved Ones this Holiday Season

The holidays are a time when families get together — sometimes after long periods apart. “If you haven’t seen your elderly loved one in a while, you might be more likely to notice changes in their memory and behavior that worries you,” said Gregory Jicha, M.D., Ph.D., of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs because of microscopic bleeding and blood vessel blockage in the brain, is the second most common cause of dementia. Those who experience the brain changes of multiple types of dementia simultaneously have mixed dementia. There are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

Look for these early signs of dementia in an elderly loved one:

  • It’s normal for someone to forget a date or a name but suddenly remember it later. However, pay attention if they ask for the same information repeatedly, or struggle to recall important dates (like their own birthdate).
  • Are they having trouble following a recipe? Problem-solving skills can deteriorate in someone with Alzheimer’s.
  • Do they get lost when driving to a familiar location? If they have difficulty completing familiar tasks, it might be a sign of AD.
  • Healthy people occasionally struggle to find the right word, but using the wrong word — particularly if they call something by the wrong name — merits further scrutiny.
  • Poor judgment: are they giving lots of money to telemarketers or charities?
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Personality changes: are they suddenly irrational, fearful, or suspicious?

If you see any behavior that worries you, talk to your doctor or a neurologist for a thorough evaluation.

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