The holidays are a season of wonder, charm, and cheer. However, even the most joyful time can be a stressful and overwhelming time of year for caregivers. Seniors may exacerbate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, or mild cognitive impairment.
If you’re noticing a senior loved one struggling with their memory, judgment, or planning skills over the holidays—it’s time to make an appointment with their doctor and craft a care plan.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the causes and risk factors, and how to navigate the holiday season if your loved one is struggling with symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease?
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease progress slowly. Since Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, symptoms will usually be mild at first and gradually worsen over time.
Family members often discover symptoms of memory problems or mild cognitive impairment in their senior loved ones over the holidays.
Holiday gatherings bring up opportunities to witness loved ones interacting with a lot of families and using skills they may not often use during their normal routines.
For example, you may witness your mom asking her sister the same question multiple times, your dad forgetting his niece’s name, or your aunt struggling with the rules of her favorite card game.
These instances can serve as warning signs that it may be time to intervene with your family member’s health.
Let’s take a look at the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease generally progresses slowly, and begins with memory problems such as trouble remembering appointments or details from recent conversations.
Memory loss may not be very noticeable at first, but will likely worsen over time as new symptoms develop.
Take your loved one to the doctor as soon as you notice symptoms. Memory loss and mild cognitive impairment aren’t always due to Alzheimer’s disease, but may be the result of a different, treatable illness or deficiency.
The doctor will be able to rule out other causes of their memory loss and determine the root cause for treatment.
Trouble finding the right words and misplacing items
In early Alzheimer’s disease, it may be common to notice your loved one struggling to find the right word in conversation, or forgetting the word for common household objects.
They also may begin to lose items in strange places, such as placing their keys in the refrigerator.
Difficulty making plans or decisions
When Alzheimer’s disease progresses, routine tasks of everyday living or activities become difficult for your loved one to navigate, including cooking familiar meals or playing a favorite game. They may start feeling increasingly anxious about simple decisions or situations.
As Alzheimer’s disease develops, a person’s ability to make appropriate judgments or decisions may worsen.
For example, they might choose inappropriate clothing for the weather, make an uncharacteristic comment to a stranger, give away money, or forget to bathe or brush their hair.
Changes in personality, mood, or behavior
Changes in personality and frequent mood swings can be among the most upsetting to the family of someone with Alzheimer’s.
It’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms are not your loved one’s fault, and it’s the changes in their brain function that cause the new behaviors.
Confusion, or getting lost in familiar places
Confusion, wandering, and getting lost are among the most dangerous symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. They will likely also begin to lose their spatial awareness.
If your loved one’s symptoms progress to wandering and other symptoms of confusion, it may be time to consider the move to a memory care community such as The Kensington White Plains, where their safety and security are top priorities.
Symptoms in severe stages
Knowing how symptoms worsen and can become increasingly severe as time goes on can help you make the right decision to transition your loved one to a care community, as they experience middle-stage symptoms. The earlier in the disease that they transition, the more involved in the process they can be.
When the disease worsens, your loved one may experience difficulty eating, problems with bowel and bladder control, or impulsive behavior delusions.
What are the causes and risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease?
First, it’s important to establish that it’s not simply a part of normal aging to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
There is no absolute cause for Alzheimer’s disease today, but there are certain telltale signs and risk factors that researchers believe are tied to the disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by the abnormal buildup and formation of proteins in the brain, including amyloid plaques, which harm brain cells and tissues and results in cognitive decline.
What is unknown is what causes this abnormal buildup in the first place. Researchers think a combination of environmental, genetic, and lifestyle factors contributes to brain changes over time.
It’s important to note that while familial Alzheimer’s disease is possible, it’s not guaranteed you’ll also develop it just because a relative does. Doctors may inquire whether there is a family history of the disease in appointments with you and your loved one.
The following risk factors may contribute to the development and progression of the disease:
- Age: The risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increases with age
- Genetics: You may be at an increased risk if you have a family member with Alzheimer’s, but this is no guarantee
- Sex: Women are more likely than men to develop the disease because they generally live longer
- Traumatic brain injury: A history of a TBI can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Drinking excessively can damage the brain over time
- Poor health and sleep habits: Risk factors for heart disease are similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease, including obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure
- Senior loneliness and isolation: A lack of social activity can put seniors at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
There is no known cure at this time, however, scientists continue to make strides in Alzheimer’s disease research, and the future of treatments and prevention is bright.
Until then, it’s important to follow the basics of good health to potentially prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease or the worsening of symptoms. Exercising and other habits can also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Healthy lifestyle habits for risk reduction include physical exercise, social engagement, a brain-healthy diet, and quality sleep.
How to navigate the holidays if your loved one is experiencing symptoms
It’s helpful to educate yourself as much as possible on the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease so you can properly identify these symptoms in a loved one.
Generally, there are three main stages of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Early-stage Alzheimer’s disease
- Middle-stage Alzheimer’s disease
- Late-stage Alzheimer’s disease
These stages also can be broken down into mild Alzheimer’s disease, moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and severe Alzheimer’s disease.
If you notice your loved one experiencing cognitive difficulties over the holidays, discuss these symptoms with your loved one and suggest a visit to the doctor.
From there, you can speak with your other family members to prepare them for your loved one’s memory problems or behavioral symptoms.
How a memory care community can help with Alzheimer’s and dementia care
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, it may be easier for a family member to step up as a caregiver for their loved one.
However, as the disease progresses, it can become increasingly difficult to navigate the new symptoms on your own. This is where a specialized memory care community comes in.
- Rehabilitation services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy
- Full calendar of life enrichment events and activities
- Nutritious, gourmet dining options
- Specialized memory care in two neighborhoods, Connections and Haven
- Caregiver resources and events
Please reach out to our loving team today to learn more about how we can support your family as you navigate a new Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, and seek options for your loved one’s care.
We are dedicated to making the transition to memory care as seamless as possible.