BUFFALO - For many family members, gathering once a year for the holidays may trigger more than the usual amount of stress from shopping, cooking and traveling. It often is the time when they notice mom or granddad has undergone some changes that are impacting their physical condition or thinking skills.
The Alzheimer's Association generally sees the number of calls to its 24-hour helpline - 800-272-3900 - swell during and after the holidays when people visiting with friends and family whom they may not have seen since the last gathering become aware something is not quite right.
"Our helpline is staffed around the clock, even on the holidays, to ensure that people looking for answers have somewhere to turn," WNY Chapter Executive Director Leilani Pelletier, M.S., said. "Forgetting how to record a television show is not the same as putting ice cream in the medicine cabinet, and for many people, seeing those kinds of odd behaviors trigger what we call an 'a-hah' moment - when they realize that mom is not just being forgetful or quirky, but may need professional assessment. We can help sort out which behaviors are warning flags and guide family to find doctors, programs and other resources close to home."
Ignoring the signs of cognitive impairment out of fear or denial can lead to greater heartache down the road, and the possible worsening of the situation. The Alzheimer's Association has compiled a list of 10 warning signs of the disease, which include: memory changes that disrupt daily life, such as forgetting important events; challenges in planning or solving problems, such as keeping track of monthly bills; difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to routine places; confusion with time or place, such as the date; trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, such as reading; new problems with words in speaking or writing, such as inappropriate words; misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps, such as putting ice cream in the medicine cabinet; decreased or poor judgment, such as giving large sums of money to telemarketers; withdrawal from work or social activities, such as forgetting how to finish a favorite hobby; and canges in mood and personality, such as becoming angry or fearful.
The helpline is staffed by experts who can answer questions about behavior and guide callers to care and support services. The 24-hour helpline can also provide help for caregivers, such as a listing of programs offering care and socialization services.
"Holidays can also be especially stressful for caregivers, who may feel all alone or even guilty if they seek help," Pelletier said. "We can help them find educational resources and groups of peers who meet in various communities and on line. We can also provide some tips for having those difficult conversations with family about making plans for future needs and care."
All calls to 1-800-272-3900 are free and confidential.