10 Holiday Dementia Awareness Signals

Every year, we receive questions during the holidays from families wondering if a loved one might be experiencing memory loss or dementia. With the holidays approaching, Provision Living offers the following Signals and Tips to help increase awareness about memory impairment and what to look out for as your family gathers for holiday events and activities.

If part of your family’s planning already includes exploring options for a loved one with memory loss, Provision Living’s Care Partners are available to assist with answers and information.

Signal #1: Deck the halls with lots of Post-its?

Post-it notes make for great reminders, but they can also be a sign of memory loss especially if they refer to daily functions of life such as eating, sleeping, and bathing.

Caregiver Tip: Regular medication can help delay symptoms of mild cognitive dysfunction long enough to provide a window of opportunity to begin planning and taking steps toward a solution. If the number of reminders remains relatively small and consistent, this is a good time to begin a conversation with the elder about the use of reminders and what might be a next logical step should the need for reminders increase.


Signal #2: The case of the salty sugar cookies.

For years Aunt Jean has made her “famous” sugar cookies, but this year the kids are asking why they taste salty. Trouble following a familiar recipe could be a sign of memory loss.

Caregiver Tip: Starting a notebook to capture dates and times related to notable observations can be a good starting place for concerned family members. These notes will not only provide a sense of the regularity of events signaling possible memory impairment but can be shared with a medical professional ahead of evaluation, if needed.


Signal #3: Bad wrap.

Grandma’s gifts are usually wrapped beautifully, but now it seems like a child may have wrapped them. If an elder struggles with or avoids tasks once handled easily, it could be a sign of memory loss.

Caregiver Tip: A poorly wrapped gift is minor enough that having a lighthearted conversation about it should not cause too much stress. When talking, look for signs of how easily the elder can or cannot discuss or explain the difficulty of the task. Evidence of the elder struggling to explain should be noted in detail for possible use during an evaluation of cognitive ability.


Signal #4: “When is Thanksgiving dinner, again?”

Confusion with time or place is often associated with dementia. Everyone is forgetful once in a while, but repeated lapses in memory should be a cause for concern.

Caregiver Tip: Gaps in the ability to recall well-known names and dates might not impact an elder’s ability to use good judgment, however such impairment could impact the ability to handle vital steps in an emergency situation, such as remembering that the numbers “9-1-1” are to be used when calling for help. Establishing an ongoing conversation about remembering key information will help in exploring gaps when they occur.


Signal #5: Are those sugar plums?

Elders experiencing memory loss often have trouble with vision and may misinterpret spatial relationships. This can make it difficult to read, determine colors and judge distances.

Caregiver Tip: Make it a practice to be specific when describing something to an elder. For example, “Mom, your glasses are on the small table to your left.”


Signal #6: Uncle Ted’s unusual “Silent Night”

Uncle Ted is never at a loss for words, but this Christmas he seems reluctant to talk. Sudden changes in speaking or writing that seem out of character could be related to memory loss.

Caregiver Tip: An elder may become withdrawn for many reasons, such as depression, physical changes or loss of abilities. It’s important to find experts to determine the core issues. However, be prepared to sit quietly with an elder to provide a comfortable and pressure-free space that encourages engagement.


Signal #7: Holiday spirit doesn’t include stealing.

Losing or misplacing things can be an early sign of dementia. If an elder mistakingly says something, such as a Christmas present, has been stolen, it could be an indication of memory loss.

Caregiver Tip: Paranoia associated with dementia often stems from a feeling of vulnerability. Try to say things to the elder that are calming and reassuring so as to create a sense of sharing in the experience the elder is having. This is an important step in resolving anxiety or concern.


Signal #8: A little too charitable this season?

The holidays can be a season of joyful giving. However, dementia can impact one’s ability to properly judge the appropriate amount to give. Charitable donations of surprisingly large sums of money might signal memory loss.

Caregiver Tip: Many steps need to be taken to assist an elder with memory loss in handling finances. One simple step is to monitor your loved one’s mail. Pay attention to the volume of solicitations received for donations and sweepstakes and ask questions to find out if there has been any participation or response on the elder’s part.


Signal #9: Blue Christmas?

People living with memory loss often exhibit a withdrawal from work or social activities they once enjoyed. This might reveal itself in someone showing little interest in Holiday gatherings or activities.

Caregiver Tip: Take some time to engage in ways that are meaningful to the elder. While this can be hard during the busyness of the holiday, it’s important to have meaningful contact. Play the elder’s favorite music, look at family pictures or have contact with a loved pet.


Signal #10: Comfort zone or confusion?

Elders who are experiencing memory loss can become easily upset when they find themselves outside their comfort zone. If a change in holiday routine seems to cause anxiety or confusion in an elder loved one, it might be a sign of cognitive impairment.

Caregiver Tip: Start by being aware of your own behavior as you engage an elder demonstrating anxious behavior. With the elder, stay calm and look for triggers. Feeling pain, being too hot or too cold, needing to use the bathroom and becoming overstimulated are all common triggers that impact behavior.

A Daughter’s Testimony

When Candace heard her Mom say, “it’s too much work putting up the Christmas tree,” she began to think something might be wrong. But then her Mom began to act feisty and even a little mean. Candace was confused.

It broke her heart at the time but Candace realized later that her Mom was suffering from dementia. After years of putting up decorations and a Christmas tree and having a great time, suddenly her Mom was turning away and seemed not to want to be bothered.

Candace did not realize at the time that people living with memory loss often exhibit a withdrawal from work or social activities they once enjoyed. This might reveal itself in someone showing little interest in Holiday gatherings or activities.

To keep her mother safe, Candace knew she had to find a way to move her out of her home. A dream Candace had about her mother moving to Ann Arbor was instrumental in her mother’s decision. Much to Candace’s surprise, her mother was not only willing, but excited to make the move. Candace had driven past University Living for 15 years and had admired the well-kept grounds and thought someday she would bring her mother there. A visit to University Living and a high recommendation from a co-worker whose mother was living at the senior living community solidified that University Living was the best choice.

After months of packing and hours of moving in her belongings and hanging her souvenirs from her travels to 300 countries, Candace’s mother was settled in and at home in her new apartment.

Candace said, “She was really excited about moving. . . . She was glowing when we arrived in Ann Arbor. Her apartment looks like a mini home for her.”

Candace’s mother has been living at University Living for two years and stays active at home and out in the community of Ann Arbor. If Candace had to start over again looking for a senior living community for her mother, who just turned 97, she said she would make the same choice.

“This was the best decision I could have ever made in my life. University living is on the map because the people here really care. The management is exceptional,” Candace said. “They take great care of my mother and treat my mother and me like royalty.”

Invitation to Discuss and Learn

These days you can learn a lot from online resources and the experience of co-workers, siblings, and friends but there is no substitute for talking with an expert who understands your situation and can help your family explore and evaluate options.
To connect with a Provision Living Care Partner, call 844-217-9780 or send a message through the form below.

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