Did Grandma Forget Your Name?

HYANNIS – If you’re 50-plus, or maybe even younger, you know what it’s like to have the occasional senior moment. But, as we gather with older family members for the holidays, can you tell the difference between ordinary forgetfulness and the signs of a bigger problem?

“The holidays are not just a time to share happiness, but also a time to pay attention to our elderly loved ones,” said Arash Tadbiri. MD, who practices family and geriatric medicine at Emerald Physicians in Bourne.

If you’re spending time with an older family member you rarely get to see, be sure to keep your eyes open for warning signs of cognitive problems.

“People who infrequently visit the older family member can better see the changes that they are going through,” he said. “Caregivers or people who live with someone often don’t realize the changes that happened over the course of a year. It’s very gradual and, if people see someone day-to-day or visit weekly, they might not recognize it.”

The first sign of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is typically memory loss, he said.

“Forgetting little things is normal for everyone, but if someone does not recognize a loved one or doesn’t remember the name of a close relative, that can be a red flag,” he said.

Some other behaviors to watch for, according to Dr. Tadbiri:

Language use: Repetitive questions or repetitive sentences, saying the same things over and over, are signs of short-term memory loss. Substituting a word for a forgotten simple word repeatedly is another sign of dementia. Instead of saying, Bring the car,’ they might say, ‘Bring the thing you drive in’ or use some other odd language.
Difficulties with common tasks: Check to see if they can complete tasks with multiple steps, like preparing meals or paying bills. If not, that raises a concern.
Hygiene changes: Occasionally forgetting to shave is fine, but if someone is not groomed neatly, has a smelly house or has body order, those can be signs of decline.
Sundowning: As the day finishes, the person becomes a little bit confused, especially during wintertime. This becomes more frequent in a dementia or Alzheimer’s patient.
If you see signs that concern you, take your loved one to their doctor for a memory test and, if need be, a referral to a neurologist for further testing.

“Dementia can be an umbrella term for memory issues, some of which are reversible if treated,” Dr. Tadbiri said.

Some conditions mimic Alzheimer’s and interfere with memory, but are not Alzheimer’s, he added. One example is depression, which can appear as dementia.

“In young people, usually depression presents itself by feeling sad, blue, or not worthy. In the elderly, it can present with memory issues, functional issues and sometimes agitation. It’s very common during the holiday season for elderly people to become more depressed,” he said.

Hypothyroidism can also cause memory issues, and Vitamin B12 deficiency is also something that should be checked in the elderly.

“These are some easily reversible causes of dementia,” Dr. Tadbiri said.

If it is Alzheimer’s, it is not curable, but there are medications that can alleviate symptoms or slow down the disease.

If you have a concern, take your loved one to the doctor sooner rather than later, he said.

“Pay attention to changes that they are going through. It is a sign of love to show your concern and intervene if need be.”

By BILL O’NEILL, Cape Cod Health News

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