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

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  • The memory robbing disease can cause organisation and spatial problems
  • At Christmas this could show as struggling to cook dinner and forgetting cards

Forgetting to turn on the oven and struggling to prepare the vegetables for Christmas dinner could be a warning signs of dementia, experts have warned. 

More than 900,000 Brits and 7million Americans are thought to have dementia but around a third are undiagnosed.

Activities over the festive period could provide the catalyst for symptoms to show up, according to Dr Tim Rittman, a neurology consultant at the Addenbrookes Memory Clinic in Cambridge. 

‘A lot of the things we do at Christmas actually draw on quite a lot of the brains cognitive functions,’ he says.

From not understanding a board game to getting lost at a family member’s house, MailOnline reveals some warning signs that your loved one could have dementia.

Dementia affects more than 900,000 Brits and 7million Americans. if you see a member of your family struggling with conversation, organisation and memory, it could be a warning sign they have dementia

Unable to play board games

Playing a board game at Christmas requires the parts of the brain that control attention, memory and problem solving to kick into gear.

This tests cognitive function — the abilities that are slowly lost among those with dementia.

If a family member is struggling to follow the rules or forgetting whose turn it is, it could be a sign of the disease, says Dr Rittman.

‘I think there are lots of reasons someone with Alzheimer’s could struggle with a board game,’ said Dr Rittman. 

‘It could be you are impulsive and can’t work it out or not able to learn the rules, or it could be that your memory is affected and you can’t quite remember what happened on the last turn.’

Struggling to cook Christmas dinner

It takes a lot of planning and organisation to cook a big Christmas dinner, from buying ingredients to preparation and cooking.

Most people ‘get through it and eventually serve it all on the table’, says Dr Rittman.

However, among people with dementia, it can cause everything to go wrong to the point that someone else needs to step in and help, he says. 

Those who have frontotemporal dementia may struggle the most. This type affects the front of the brain which helps with organisation.

Dr Rittman said: ‘Sequencing can be difficult with Alzheimer’s disease if you’re forgetting what you’re doing and struggling to keep track of things.

‘But also in other types of dementia, which particularly affect that organisation, coordination and things.’

Forgetting presents

It can be easy to forget something around the festive period, with card to write, presents to buy and food to prepare.

Forgetting the names of loved one consistently and not bringing a present of a more distant relative, such as a niece or nephew, could be an early warning sign of dementia

Forgetting the names of loved one consistently and not bringing a present of a more distant relative, such as a niece or nephew, could be an early warning sign of dementia 

But missing people off the Christmas present list, sending two lots of Christmas cards and consistently forgetting the names of family members could be an indication of the memory-robbing illness.

Dr Rittman says: ‘If they’ve had no problem writing the Christmas cards previously, but then this year they are missing out people or sending people two Christmas cards [that could be a signal].

‘It’s the same with presents. You shouldn’t be forgetting important presents or losing them. 

‘Losing the odd present here or there is fine, but when the whole things doesn’t work properly, that’s more of a problem.’ 

He adds: ‘If you are forgetting your Christmas cards, and you are losing your keys, and you can’t cook the Christmas dinner, and you are struggling to manage the finances, all of those things are signs.’

Getting lost around the house

Many people travel at Christmas to stay in the homes’ of relatives. 

For people with dementia, this can cause them to find themselves in the wrong room of a familiar house.

‘If you are going to the son or daughters house at Christmas and get lost around the house, that will be concerning. That navigational memory is often one the earliest things to get affected in Alzheimer’s disease,’ says Dr Rittman.

It’s not worrying if a person eventually finds the right room but it is if they are, for example, trying to find the bathroom and end up outside, he says.

He explains: ‘There are types of dementia that cause visual and spatial problems, so you just can’t figure out where things are.

‘Often, people find it very difficult to describe that things just don’t look quite right and can’t find objects in front of them.

‘They might have trouble reversing the car, for example, they might reverse into the gatepost because they can’t work out or see where it is in relation to the car.’

Not keeping up with conversations 

There is always plenty of chatter over Christmas dinner tables. 

Struggling to keep up — forgetting names, places and losing track of what has been said — can be a sign of dementia. 

Dr Rittman said: ‘We find people who have these sort of attentional memory problems, which are not down to dementia, they can still describe a lot about what happened, but just can’t remember a few details, but they can sort of talk around it. 

Those with these symptoms are advised to see a GP. Getting an early diagnosis can help get the correct treatment and support in place

Those with these symptoms are advised to see a GP. Getting an early diagnosis can help get the correct treatment and support in place

‘Whereas people with dementia, tend to forget that something’s happened at all.’

For example, someone with dementia might forget a big family occasion such as a wedding or forget they even went on holiday.  

Rather than this just being a dementia-related memory problem, it can be a sign of difficulties speaking and understanding words — rare symptoms of frontotemporal dementia, according to Mr Rittman.

He says: ‘There are other causes such as a stroke, brain tumours and things that can affect features in the right part of the brain. 

‘But there are definitely types of dementia that can affect how you put sentences together or how you put words and syllables together.’

Struggling to follow the TV Christmas special 

Christmas specials of TV shows may be a central part of festive celebrations.

But forgetting major characters or getting easily confused over the plot are common signs of dementia.

‘Not being able to follow what’s going on in a film or forgetting a storyline from one series to the next, or not recognising people’ are classic warning signs of dementia, according to Dr Rittman. 

It may be down to the disease making it difficult to recognise faces, according to Alzheimer’s Society.  

What should you do ?

People with these symptoms are advised to see a GP so they can get diagnosed.

A doctor can run tests to rule out other common conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms and make a referral for further tests 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 just for the person experiencing them but for their loved ones too. 

‘It’s important to raise awareness so that people can seek the support they need from their GP to find out what’s going on, whether it’s dementia or something else.

‘By spotting signs that could be dementia early, people will hopefully be able receive an accurate, timely diagnosis and access the help they need.’

WHAT IS DEMENTIA?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders

A GLOBAL CONCERN 

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

There are many types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of different types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?

The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.

IS THERE A CURE?

Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted, the more effective treatments can be.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 

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