Holiday reunions may reveal memory problems

Special to the Herald-LeaderDecember 22, 2012 

Dr. Greg Jicha

During the holidays, many people have the chance to reconnect with loved ones. As you visit with relatives and friends — particularly older people — you may notice changes in their behavior, speech or memory. Changes like forgetfulness, confusion, irritability or a sense of being disconnected from events may be signs of dementia or Alzheimer's or they could be linked to normal aging. How can you tell the difference?

From misplacing our glasses, struggling to remember the name of an acquaintance or forgetting the date, many of us exhibit what could be interpreted as signs of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia on a near daily basis. Yet these behaviors, when seen in older adults, do not necessarily signal Alzheimer's or a memory disorder, either.

If they have always been prone to misplacing things or forgetting names, it may not be cause for worry. However, if this represents a change, it's time to take action.

Dementia places people at risk on a daily basis, as taking medication, driving and cooking all become dangerous. Yet it is easy to miss true signs of dementia. An older adult may impress family members by recalling, in detail, events from their youth.

But a sharp memory for long-ago events often goes hand-in-hand with an inability to create new memories or to recall recent events such as what the person had for lunch.

Signs of Alzheimer's or dementia include sudden personality changes (an extroverted person may become very withdrawn, or vice versa), dramatic changes in mood, or loss of initiative. People with cognitive difficulties may have trouble recognizing and using language (it's important to rule out hearing loss). They often repeat themselves, and sometimes lose the ability to complete familiar processes, like making a favorite recipe or dressing themselves. Perhaps most worrisome, people with dementia may exercise poor judgment, using household tools in a dangerous way or taking risks while driving.

If you spot any of these warning signs in a loved one, they may require evaluation:

■ Memory loss

■ Difficulty performing familiar tasks

■ Problems with language

■ Disorientation to time or place

■ Poor or decreased judgment

■ Problems with abstract thinking

■ Misplacing things

■ Changes in mood or behavior

■ Changes in personality

■ Loss of initiative

While it is important to recognize signs of memory problems in family and friends, it is also important to use tact when approaching the individual. A crowded family dinner isn't the time or place to bring up symptoms you may have noticed.

For more information on Alzheimer's disease and memory disorders, contact the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at UKy.Edu/COA or (859) 323-5550.

Dr. Greg Jicha is the McCowan Endowed Chair in Alzheimer's Disease at the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.This is an endnote here an dhdjbfv jhbdvf djfbvjd vhbdfjv jdbvf jdfjbvh jvfjkdbf

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