3 ways to use holiday visits to spot signs of dementia (and what to do about it)
By now, we’ve passed Thanksgiving and perhaps you may be wondering if something is up with one of your family members or friends. Well, regardless of what holiday you approach, you may find yourself spending more time with your family member for the remainder of December. You may be wondering “what should I be looking for?” or “is that a sign or just normal?” I’m going to provide some direction on what you can look for and guide you through some next-steps to take.
What to look for:
The person’s home is a great indicator that something may be going on cognitively. If you can answer “yes” to several of these questions, there may be cause for concern.
- Are there several areas/items needing repairs?
- Burned out light bulbs?
- Overflowing trash
- Are there more items, possibly acquired through shopping, than there use to be?
- Is the home more cluttered?
- Do you see spills on the floor or steps?
- Any new dings/holes in the walls?
- Is there spoiled food in the refrigerator?
- Is there any food in the refrigerator?
- Is the home dirtier than usual?
- Are you finding past-due notices or important mail hidden in drawers, cabinets, trash can, or other places that important information does not belong?
Mood or behavior
While changes in mood or behavior can indicate a mental health concern, it can also indicate a cognitive health concern as well. If you answer “yes” to several of these questions, you should speak to a professional to rule out treatable mental health concerns.
- Are they socializing less often?
- Have they lost interest in activities they once enjoyed?
- Are they more suspicious of others intentions?
- Do they tell stories that don’t quite seem right to you?
- Are they more irritable?
- Are they more apathetic?
- Do they seem withdrawn or sad?
- Is there more confusion?
- Do they forget full events or conversations?
- Do they repeat things more than they used to?
As we age, it may become harder to perform hygiene routines. Sometimes this is because our aging bodies are changing and we’re feeling more pain or lacking energy. Other times, it can be due to a cognitive decline, which may be indicated by answering “yes” to several of these questions:
- Are you finding dirty dishes in cabinets?
- Are you finding dirty laundry hanging in closets or folded in drawers?
- Does your loved one have a noticeable body or breath odor?
- Do their clothes seem to be wrinkled?
- Is their hair unkempt?
- Do their fingernails seem too long and have excessive dirt under them?
- Is the person lacking an appropriate cleaning supplies for clothing, dishes, and bathing in the home?
- Do the above mentioned cleaning supplies seem to be unused?
- Are they wearing pajamas rather than they getting dressed in the morning?
Now what do I do?
What to do if you answered “yes” to several of the questions in each of the areas? There are several steps you can take and the step you choose will depend on your individual situation. The urgency and severity may determine how you take the next step. Here are some options of how you can proceed:
Speak to your loved one directly
Some people will already be noticing changes in their self and be able to admit that to you. So, this method may be great. You can start by expressing your concern in a loving, non-confrontational way. I suggest doing this in private and monitoring when you are doing it. When is your loved one at their best. Try using “I” statements that reflect your concern. “I feel uneasy about leaving tomorrow because it seems like you could use more of my help. Is that true?” Then, you may be able to proceed to the next steps. Keep in mind, that not all people will be as accepting of this type of feedback. You may be met with anger or defensiveness.
Stay with them to observe longer
It may not be safe to leave them. In which case, you may need to hire a dementia consultant or taking your time in figuring out a game-plan. Bringing someone in to help you develop that game plan or collaborating with your family members may take time and your loved one’s safety may be at risk if you leave. Be prepared to consider this. You may have to work with your loved one to create a safer home. Resistance may be an issue, in which case you may need outside help from a professional.
Consult with a Dementia Expert
A dementia expert can provide individualized techniques on how to talk to the person as well as create a plan for safety and health going forward. They can refer you to resources and help determine the best way to introduce these resources to the person with cognitive impairment. This may include anything from a cleaning or meal service to a neurologist.
Who can diagnose?
Typically, a neurologist or a neuropsychologist will diagnose your loved one with dementia. However, you may need to visit their primary care physician first. As mentioned, you may want to rule out mental health issues. A doctor will also rule other physical causes of cognitive issues including: vitamin deficiencies, poor nutrition, dehydration, diabetes, infection, etc. If you want to or need to (due to insurance restrictions) visit the primary care physician first, I recommend requesting a referral to a neurologist so that you have it.
Holidays can be a joyous time for families but it is also a time many families become more concerned about their loved ones. If you are noticing something, even if it is Christmas morning, you can always send Trovato a message through our instant messaging feature on our homepage, or you can e-mail us at info@TrovatoLLC.com. We will get back to you as quickly as we can!