The holidays are a time when families spend time together–which can also be a point when children or loved ones notice warning signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia with their relatives.
Alzheimer’s Association Central & North Florida Chapter Program Manager Kristal Cooley recently spoke with Washington County News/Holmes County Advertiser about warning signs to notice and ways to help family members displaying symptoms. The Alzheimer’s Association’s most recent data states around 10% of seniors in Washington and Holmes counties each are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s.
“A good example I like to use in my presentations is, let’s say, we all forget our keys and misplace them,” Cooley said. “Let’s say I’m going around, put my keys down, get distracted, but I can remember them where I put them a few minutes later. Someone with Alzheimer’s can be doing the same exact thing but instead of remembering where it’s at or what they were doing, they can possibly go to a whole other new task and completely forget they were about to go to an appointment.”
Another symptom are negative impacts to daily life, such as someone who’s normally on top of paying bills start missing payments or thinking they already went shopping for food when they haven’t done so in over a week.
“That’s when we tell people to start going to see a doctor,” Cooley said. “You can sit down and talk to them and they can refer you to a memory disorder clinic that might be in the nearby area or a neurologist who specializes in the brain.”
Disruptions in routine can also alarm people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia, such as being taken to someone else’s house for the holidays.
“That can be very alarming to someone with dementia because they’re used to their home,” Cooley said. “Going to a whole new place throws them off.”
One of the first discussions people should have with loved ones displaying symptoms is taking car keys away if the person is driving.
“People with dementia, their peripheral and optical nerves start to not act right,” Cooley said. “Let’s say there’s a stop sign down the road but, to them, it’s right here. In the next two seconds, they hit the brakes. They can cause a crash. It’s to the point where they go to the same beauty shop for 30 years on every Tuesday to get their hair done. They get back in the car and can’t remember how to get home or they take one wrong turn and they’re three counties over and they don’t realize it.”
Some people with dementia may also be what Cooley calls “wanderers,” which is what it sounds like.
“We tell people to make sure certain things are locked around the house so they can’t get into certain chemicals,” Cooley said. “Another way to keep somebody from wandering, especially at night, is to put a black mat in front of the door. It’ll look like a hole, so they won’t go near it. If that doesn’t work, you can put child locks around the doorknob.”
Putting monitors in a home or certain alarms to notify when people go out a home are other tips.
“Also, GPS tracking. If mom has their phone on them, (the family) can track her via GPS,” Cooley said. “If they have a bad habit of wandering, (the family) can put an AirTag in their shoe.”
Alzheimer’s Association is open to volunteers helping out. If so interested, potential volunteers can call an all-hours helpline at 800-272-3900 or register through an online portal at alz.org.