Forgetting to turn the oven on, getting lost in a relative’s house and struggling with games: The signs a loved-one could have dementia this Christmas
Forgetting to turn on the oven and struggling to prepare vegetables for Christmas dinner could be warning signs of dementia, experts have warned.
More than 900,000 Britons and 7 million Americans are thought to suffer from dementia, but around a third are undiagnosed.
Activities over the festive period could be the catalyst for the onset of symptoms, according to Dr Tim Rittman, consultant neurology at the Addenbrookes Memory Clinic in Cambridge.
“A lot of the things we do at Christmas actually use quite a few cognitive functions of the brain,” he says.
From not understanding a board game to getting lost at a relative's house, MailOnline reveals some warning signs your loved one could have dementia.
Dementia affects more than 900,000 Britons and 7 million Americans. If you see a member of your family struggling with conversation, organization and memory, it could be a warning sign that he/she has dementia
Can't play board games
Playing a board game at Christmas should kick into gear the parts of the brain that control attention, memory and problem solving.
This tests cognitive function – the abilities that are slowly lost in people with dementia.
If it concerns a family member Struggling to follow the rules or forgetting whose turn it is can be a sign of the disease, says Dr. Rittman.
“I think there are many reasons why someone with Alzheimer's disease might have trouble playing a board game,” says Dr. Rittman.
“It could be that you are impulsive and can't figure it out or learn the rules, or your memory is impaired and you can't remember exactly what happened the last turn.”
Difficulty cooking Christmas dinner
It takes a lot of planning and organization to cook a big Christmas dinner, from buying ingredients to preparing and cooking.
Most people “get through it and end up serving it all on the table,” says Dr. Rittman.
For people with dementia, however, it can lead to everything going so wrong that someone else has to step in and help, he says.
Those with frontotemporal dementia may struggle the most. This type affects the front of the brain, which helps with organization.
Dr. Rittman said, “Sequencing can be difficult with Alzheimer's disease if you forget what you're doing and have trouble keeping track of things.
'But also with other forms of dementia, which mainly affect organization, coordination and the like.'
It can be easy to forget something around the holidays, with cards to write, gifts to buy and food to prepare.
Consistently forgetting the names of a loved one and not bringing a gift from a more distant relative, such as a niece or nephew, can be an early warning sign of dementia
But missing people from the Christmas present list, sending two Christmas cards and consistently forgetting the names of family members can be an indication of the memory robbing disease.
Dr. Rittman says, “If they haven't had any trouble writing the Christmas cards before, but this year they're missing out or sending people two Christmas cards (that could be a sign).
'It's the same with presents. You should not forget or lose important gifts.
“It's fine to lose a gift here and there, but if everything doesn't work properly, that's a bigger problem.”
He adds: 'If you forget your Christmas cards, you lose your keys, and you can't cook Christmas dinner, and you're struggling to manage your finances, these are all signs.'
Getting lost in the house
Many people travel at Christmas to stay with relatives at home.
For people with dementia, this can lead to ending up in the wrong room of a familiar house.
'If you go to the son or daughter's house at Christmas and get lost in the house, that will be worrying. That navigational memory is often one of the first things to be affected in Alzheimer's disease,” says Dr. Rittman.
It's not a concern if someone eventually finds the right room, but it is if they try to find the bathroom, for example, and end up outside, he says.
He explains: 'There are forms of dementia that cause visual and spatial problems, so you just can't figure out where things are.
'People often find it very difficult to describe that things just don't look quite right and that they can't find objects in front of them.
'They may have difficulty reversing the car. For example, they may back into the fence because they cannot figure out or see where the car is in relation to the car.”
Not keeping track of conversations
There is always plenty of talking during Christmas dinner.
Difficulty keeping up – forgetting names and places and losing track of what has been said – can be a sign of dementia.
Dr. Rittman said: 'We find people with these types of attention memory problems, which are not due to dementia. They can still describe a lot about what happened, but can't remember some details, but they can talk. around it.
Those with these symptoms are advised to consult a doctor. Getting an early diagnosis can help you get the right treatment and support
'While people with dementia often forget that anything happened at all.'
For example, someone with dementia may forget a big family event, such as a wedding, or even forget that they have been on vacation.
Rather than just being a memory problem related to dementia, it could be a sign of difficulty speaking and understanding words — rare symptoms of frontotemporal dementia, Mr. Rittman said.
He says: 'There are other causes, such as stroke, brain tumors and things that can affect the features in the right part of the brain.
'But there are certainly forms of dementia that can affect the way you put sentences together or how you put words and syllables together.'
I'm having trouble following the TV Christmas special
Christmas TV specials can be a central part of festive celebrations.
But forgetting main characters or becoming easily confused about the plot are common signs of dementia.
“Not being able to follow what's happening in a movie, or forgetting a storyline from one series to the next, or not recognizing people” are classic warning signs of dementia, Dr. Rittman said.
It may be related to the disease that makes it difficult to recognize faces, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
What should you do ?
People with these symptoms are advised to consult a doctor so that the diagnosis can be made.
A doctor can carry out tests to rule out other common conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms and make a referral for further testing at a memory clinic if necessary, says Alzheimer's Research UK.
There is currently no cure for dementia, but treatment includes medication and therapy.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, head of policy – prevention, early detection and diagnosis at Alzheimer's Research UK, told MailOnline: 'These symptoms can be frightening, not only for the person experiencing them, but also for their loved ones.
'It's important to raise awareness so people can seek the help they need from their GP to find out what's going on, whether it's dementia or something else.
'By spotting early signs that could indicate dementia, people can hopefully receive an accurate, timely diagnosis and access the help they need.'