News : Alzheimer's Hotline Busier During Holiday Season
BATAVIA, Nov 29, 2013 -- Although most folks fixate on the turkey and fixings, football and post-meal naps, there’s something that many don’t plan for during holiday get-togethers.
It’s the apparent mental decline of loved ones, Leilani Pelletier says.
Maybe mom is quite confused and is wandering around the house. Or perhaps dad hasn’t bathed or changed his clothes for a number of days.
That visit home for Thanksgiving can quickly become something other than a pleasant trip.
"It starts to uncover some difficult things," said Pelletier, executive director for the Western New York Alzheimer’s Association. "When they visit for a few hours it’s not the same as when they stay overnight (at a parent’s home). People get paralyzed until something hits them, and then they panic."
Nationally, that gives cause for a 13 percent jump in hotline calls to the Association around Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, she said. Sometimes a sibling has tried to explain what’s going on, but the distant family member doesn’t understand it until he/she sees mom or dad in person.
Then there’s often a knee-jerk reaction from those children who may feel helpless by living out of town.
"They are panicking, not thinking about problem-solving," Pelletier said. "We can coach them on questions to ask: Who else is in the area who can help? Try to assess the danger the person is in."
If it seems to be a true medical emergency, call 911, a local hospital and/or the parent’s primary care doctor. Oftentimes children don’t even know who that is, she said.
The Association hotline can also help a son or daughter with what questions to ask the primary care doctor and what steps to take to be able to legally communicate with that professional.
Describe the situation. For example, mom has lost weight, is not eating, doesn’t smell very good and is doing things differently than usual, such as leaving piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen.
Alzheimer’s is about more than remembering a person’s name. It involves cognitive skills and often everyday habits. If it seems dangerous to leave the parent alone, call a home health agency for help, she said. There is no one blanket answer for this disease.
"Every single person’s situation is different; no one is the same," she said. "If you get a feeling in the pit of your stomach, call. We can help. Our phone number is available 24/7, 365 days. Holidays, evenings, weekends, there is always a live human being on the line. You don’t have to wait until Monday morning. It’s totally confidential and free."
If unsure about a loved one, here are 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s to consider:
- Memory loss disrupts daily life (forgetting recently learned information, important dates or events).
- There are challenges in planning or solving problems such as following a familiar recipe.
- The person finds it difficult completing common tasks, such as working out a budget or playing a favorite game.
- There is an increase in confusion with time or place, including losing track of seasons.
- The person has trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships and/or trouble reading or recognizing one’s face in the mirror.
- New problems with words arise when speaking or writing and/or repeating the same thing during a conversation.
- The person misplaces things and loses the ability to retrace his/her steps or accuses others of stealing items they can’t find.
There may also be:
- Decreased or poor judgment (giving large amounts of money to telemarketers, for example).
- Withdrawal from work or social activities or lack of interest in favorite sports.
- Changes in mood and personality, including confusion, suspicion, depression, fear or anxiety.
This is unfortunately a problem that’s not going away any time soon, Pelletier said. New York state and, in particular Western New York, is seeing large numbers of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s because of the major risk factor: old age. This region is an aging population, and "the numbers are bearing that out."
"We are absolutely overwhelmed with need," she said. "We are trying to meet some of the highest need in New York state. The social and fiscal (repercussions) are devastating."
Alzheimer’s is one of the 10 leading causes of death with no cure. She hopes that new medications will at least be able to slow down the progression.
"If we don’t get it fixed by 2025, we’re going to be in big trouble," she said.
For more information or to seek help for a loved one, the hotline is available 24 hours a day at (800) 272-3900.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Western New York Alzheimer's Association:
The Alzheimer's Association, incorporated on April 10, 1980 as the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association, Inc., is a non-profit American voluntary health organization which focuses on care, support and research for Alzheimer's disease.
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013