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Identifying changes in your older relatives: How to spot subtle signs of early dementia

It's possible you may notice some changes in older relatives. Some may be seem more distant or less talkative. Both could be signs of early dementia.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The holidays are here and many families will spend time together catching up on the events of the past year. It's possible you may notice some changes in older relatives. 

Some may be seem more distant or less talkative. Both could be signs of early dementia.

Dr. Jordan Taylor, a neurologist with University of Michigan Health West says there are some things that could indicate early dementia, "They may have difficulty remembering may have some more difficulty with the normal tasks that are associated with the holiday. So you know, if they're putting on a Thanksgiving, maybe some more difficulties prepping the food, and the organizational aspects. So you may kind of see some changes in their ability to function in that."

Another sign could be if your normally gregarious uncle is no longer the one telling the jokes, "You may find that a family member who's never really had a problem with that situation starts becoming overwhelmed in that setting, they can't handle you know, that many people that type of conversation level and need to kind of pull away from that situation. So, you know, your family member may look more withdrawn compared to what they've done before."

Subtle signs to look for:

  • Scorched pots and pans if they are cook
  • Dings and scratches on their car 
  • Reluctance to walk normal distances
  • Changes in sleeping habits

If you are noticing these things, Dr. Taylor says try talking with them about it.

"They may not remember that they had an issue. So you say well, you know, you got lost last week driving to the grocery store, but they may not remember that they got lost for that the grocery store. So I think it's important to bring it up and to have some specific instances." He also encourages concerned family members to suggest a visit to a physician, "So I think it's Good prompt, hey, we're all seeing some issues, you know, would you mind getting evaluated a little bit more in detail by your, by your, you know, trusted family physician."

If you already know you have a family member with early dementia here are a few ways to help them enjoy the holidays together.

  • Talk with other family members about expectations for the day ahead of time
  •  Have a smaller gathering to keep them from being overwhelmed
  •  Have an exit strategy in case your loved one needs to leave before the gathering is over
  •  Have a quiet space for them to be able to take a break from visiting 

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