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When a Loved One Has Dementia

The holidays can be a tough time if you are caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  

The holiday season is typically a time when families and friends gather, and memories flood our hearts and minds with the good times of yesterday. However, if one of your family members is losing their memory it can raise questions, or perhaps fears. 

It may surprise you to learn that dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it is an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.  

The scary part is that as we age, we may become susceptible to this reality. One of the forms of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the cases of dementia. It is the most common form of dementia and the greatest known risk is increasing age. 

This means the majority of people with this disease are 65 years of age and older. There are however some people younger than 65 that may also be afflicted.  

How do we know there is a problem? In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, people have mild memory loss. Individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment over time. Other forms of dementia include vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke. This is the second most common type of dementia.  

While we are preparing for the holiday season and the New Year, consider the 10 warning signs of dementia: 

  • Memory loss that disrupts routines
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty in completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things
  • Decreased judgment
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities
  • Changes in mood and personality. 

It is important to remember that you may become the point person for decisions about care, living options, financial or legal matters for your loved ones living with dementia. 

During this festive time of year, despite the challenges that may occur while being around people with dementia, remember to be grateful for the blessings and gifts of family and friends. 

Please reach out to any of the numerous support services for you and your loved ones to help with the challenges you will undoubtedly face. Have a happy holiday and a joyful and peaceful new year.

About the Author:  Sheryl L. Heron, MD, MPH, FACEP is Vice Chair of Administrative Affairs of  Emergency Medicine; Assistant Dean of Clinical Education & Student Affairs; Associate Director for Education & Training - Injury Prevention Research at Emory University School of Medicine