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Holiday gatherings may reveal warning signs of Alzheimer's in loved ones

The holidays offer busy and often remote families an opportunity to gather and spend time with loved ones who they may only see occasionally during the year. While visiting, family members might notice changes in a relative that raise questions about his/her health.

In fact, the number of people who express concern about a loved one's health tends to increase after the holiday season. From December 2008 to January 2009, the Alzheimer's Association toll-free helpline (800)272-3900 reported a 25 percent increase in calls from families with questions and concerns about Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's Association helpline experts assist callers who often, especially at this time of year, have questions about warning signs and finding a medical professional and/or resources available to help people touched by Alzheimer's.

"It's important to seek guidance and support as soon as possible if you notice cognitive changes that disrupt daily life in yourself or someone else," said Beth Kallmyer, senior director of Constituent Services for the Alzheimer's Association. "Early detection of Alzheimer's disease gives people with Alzheimer's the opportunity to plan for their future and take advantage of the resources that are currently available to them."

Warning signs

Everyone forgets a name or misplaces their keys occasionally. Many healthy people are less able to remember certain kinds of information as they get older. Memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging. It may be a symptom of Alzheimer's, a fatal brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees.

  • One of the most common signs of Alzheimer's is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events; asking for the same information over and over; relying on memory aides (e.g., reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members for things they used to handle on their own.
  • Some people may experience changes in their ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers. They may have trouble following a familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills. They may have difficulty concentrating and take much longer to do things than they did before.
  • People with Alzheimer's often find it hard to complete daily tasks. Sometimes, people may have trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work or remembering the rules of a favorite game.
  • People with Alzheimer's can lose track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. They may have trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately. Sometimes they may forget where they are or how they got there.
  • For some people, having vision problems is a sign of Alzheimer's. They may have difficulty reading, judging distance and determining color or contrast. In terms of perception, they may pass a mirror and think someone else is in the room. They may not realize they are the person in the mirror.
  • People with Alzheimer's may have trouble following or joining a conversation. They may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue or they may repeat themselves. They may struggle with vocabulary, have problems finding the right word or call things by the wrong name.
  • A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places. They may lose things and be unable to go back over their steps to find them again. Sometimes, they may accuse others of stealing. This may occur more frequently over time.
  • People with Alzheimer's may experience changes in judgment or decision-making. For example, they may use poor judgment when dealing with money, giving large amounts to telemarketers. They may pay less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.
  • A person with Alzheimer's may start to remove themselves from hobbies, social activities, work projects or sports. They may have trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby. They may also avoid being social because of the changes they have experienced.
  • The mood and personalities of people with Alzheimer's can change. They can become confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful or anxious. They may be easily upset at home, at work, with friends or in places where they are out of their comfort zone.

    If you recognize any warning signs in yourself or someone else, the Alzheimer's Association recommends consulting a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias is an important step to getting appropriate treatment, care and support services. To find out more information on the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association at

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