Alzheimer’s Association points to signs of memory loss that you may see in family members
This Thanksgiving many people will be seeing some of their family members or friends for the first time since the pandemic started.
And during their holiday visits, they might notice something’s different about their parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts or other loved ones.
The Alzheimer’s Association California Central Coast Chapter advises families how to watch for symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia as well as how to have difficult conversations with their loved ones.
It’s normal for people to experience some memory loss as they age, said Kathryn Cherkas, the program director for the chapter, which has its headquarters in Santa Barbara.
“Abnormal memory loss is when that memory loss disrupts daily life,” Ms. Cherkas told the News-Press.
She said such memory loss could also involve struggles with following instructions or remembering recently learned information.
“Forgetting names of people or things is very common, especially early on in Alzheimer’s,” Ms. Cherkas said.
She added that people with Alzheimer’s or other dementia may lean on others to help them with the information.
One red flag is someone not knowing where they are or how they got there, Ms. Cherkas said.
She added another sign is difficulty with forming sentences or remembering words. “That is so frustrating, particularly for people in the early stages.”
“Losing your ability to form a sentence, when you know what you’re trying to say, must be the most frustrating thing in the world,” Ms. Cherkas said.
She said other signs can be decreased or poor judgment, trouble with decision making or failure to maintain personal hygiene.
“I’m working with the Santa Barbara Police Department to restructure their approach when someone with dementia is wandering,” Ms. Cherkas said. “One of the main things we look for is how they’re dressed, whether they’re adhering to traffic signals. They’re often dressed inappropriately, not wearing shoes or wearing their clothes backward.”
Other signs of memory problems can include things such as failing to pay bills or not changing the oil in the car, Ms. Cherkas said.
She noted changes in moods or personalities can be a red flag.
“They start becoming much more aggressive, or maybe they even become much nicer or they find everything funny or they’re hugging people for the first time in their lives,” she said.
Ms. Cherkas cited the example of one woman who kindly invited everyone sleeping on the streets to come into her home. “There was a sweet change in mood and personality, but there was poor judgment, and it was very dangerous for her.”
She added, “Someone who is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia might become more confused, suspicious, fearful or anxious, which are the more common symptoms that we see.
“As we age, it’s normal that you develop specific ways for doing things,” Ms. Cherkas said. “For someone with dementia, changes are not just annoying to them. They’re very frightening and extremely frustrating.” She said something as simply as changing dinner plans from turkey to spaghetti could trigger a response.
Another sign of memory loss is when people in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s try to pretend know everyone, Ms. Cherkas said. “More likely than not, if they’re able to recognize their memory loss, they might try to overcompensate because they don’t want to be rude.”
When people see signs of memory problems with their loved ones, they need to ask themselves what else may be going on in their lives, Ms. Cherkas said. “Do they have other health issues?”
Stress and changes in medication can be factors, Ms. Cherkas said.
After you see signs of memory loss, consider who would be the best person to discuss the concerns with the loved one, such as a trusted family member or a friend or a combination, Ms. Cherkas said. She advises against having an entire group talk to the person with memory problems.
“We recommend having this conversation one on one, so this person doesn’t feel like it’s an ambush or an intervention,” she said.
Ms. Cherkas suggests making observations or asking compassionate questions during that conversation. “I noticed you haven’t shaved your beard in a while. Have you decided not to do this anymore? Is there something I can do to help?
“You can also offer to go to the doctor with the person and say, ‘Let’s see if the doctor can figure out what’s going on,’” Ms. Cherkas said.
She explained the approach should be to determine the scenario that makes the person feel the most comfortable.
And people can reach out to the California Central Coast Chapter for help, Ms. Cherkas said. “My team and I are here, 365 days a year, on the health line.”
She also noted that difficult conversations about loved ones don’t have to take place immediately. Be sure, she said, to enjoy the holidays with them.
“Focus on the joy of the now. During the holidays, appreciate whoever you are visiting. Be present with the person as much as you can be.”