Many relatives return for the holidays to find their loved one has changed — physically, mentally or both.
As we age, memories won’t remain as sharp and a little forgetfulness is normal. However, if you worry that your mom’s seemingly absent-mindedness is more consistent, and you detect something is definitely wrong, you need to investigate the situation.
There are various signs of impending Alzheimer’s or dementia to be aware of when observing your mom’s behaviors. Since it's the holidays, observe how your mom is making preparations. Does she forget how to follow a particular recipe for a dish she has cooked for years? Does she have difficulty problem-solving, making grocery lists, setting the table? Is she confused about the number of guests coming?
Another sign can be observed in her communication skills. Is she struggling to name objects or struggling with vocabulary itself? Does she lose track of conversations and/or continually repeat stories or instructions? Does she have trouble remembering new things that have been discussed?
The holidays can make anyone stressed, and times and dates do get confusing. But if your mom is having difficulty keeping appointments or forgets plans you have made together, these may be signs of a more serious cognitive decline.
Have you noticed a decline in your mother’s vision? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 60% of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease will have a decrease in visual ability. Watch for signs of depth or color perception, contrast sensitivity or being able to judge distances accurately. The latter could be observed as she is driving. Also, she may have difficulty reading words on a page, and you might see her reading the newspaper or a book upside down.
Has your mom’s personality changed? Is she more anxious, upset or depressed? Do you witness any paranoia or other suspicious behaviors that would be out-of-character for her?
If your mom is exhibiting many of these signs, while you are home would be a good time to schedule an appointment with her doctor to evaluate her condition. The cause of cognitive decline can be due to several reasons, such as medications, stress or other diseases. Whatever the case, you need to take steps to insure your mom’s health and welfare and to take care of any special needs she may have.
More importantly, the holidays are about creating meaningful family moments. Let the holiday be an enjoyable, enriching time. Adapt old family traditions so everyone can be comfortable and at ease; keeping that sense of family identity and belonging.
Be accepting and go with the flow of the holiday. Hold fast to that joy in the present moment with your mom.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.