As adult children migrate home for the Holidays, their senior parents sometimes show a few early warning signs that Dementia or Alzheimer’s may be starting. If you see any of these signs, it is worth consulting a medical professional. It also may be time to think about rearranging assets and income in light of future long term care.

Here are five specific warning signs:

  1. Overstocking or understocking at home: A story I remember was about an older woman who had a shopping list which included a five pound bag of potatoes. She went to the grocery store a few times a week and she purchased that bag of potatoes. Unfortunately, she never crossed the potatoes off her list, and she never made enough meals that included potatoes to ever keep up with those she was buying. By the time her son came over to visit, she had more than 50 pounds of potatoes in her pantry that spilled out on to the floor in front of him.
  2. Mail and bills accumulated in piles. With Dementia and Alzheimer’s, sometimes routine acts like paying bills and reading mail become confusing and frustrating, and people may simply pile up correspondence to “get back to it later.” Unfortunately, it may be weeks or even months that bills go unpaid, and the children may not be aware of things until utilities are turned off or items repossessed.
  3. Fuzzy short-term memory but clarity about the past: While our memory seems to go as we get older, there is a specific combination that can be a warning sign of Dementia or Alzheimer’s. That combination is difficulty remembering items from the short-term past, but also having “bursts” of clarity around memories from the distant past. If a loved one can’t remember any of their meals from the last week, but they can describe every minute detail around their high school graduation, then there might be a problem.
  4. Odd misplacement of regular household items: My grandmother experienced this, doing things like storing a clean frying pan in the freezer, or putting cooked leftovers into a unrefrigerated closet.
  5. Routine tasks become confusing and frustrating: Again, this is something that happened to my grandmother, and it was extremely frustrating to her. She made coffee every day of her adult life, but she reached a point when she just couldn’t get it right. At one point, she got so frustrated that she hurled the coffee maker out the back door and into the back yard.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, or even a medical or clinical list, it is a list of behaviors created to help families see if professional medical evaluations are needed. If a loved one is showing these signs, the worst thing a family can do is “wait and see” without seeking the help of a medical professional. While we always want to hope for the best for a loved one, having the facts can help the family protect itself more effectively.