Home for the holidays & finding loved ones' health declining

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Christmas is a busy time, full of family, food and fun. But, it may also be when you realize something is wrong with a loved one.

This is when many notice the declining health of an elderly loved one.

Donna Messick is in Oak Ridge visiting her mother for the holidays. It was this time last year when she realized mom's health was worse than she thought.

Donna said, "She wasn't as active. She tries to be, but it seems like she's doesn't get around like she used to," a very different mother from what Donna had known her entire life.

Donna said, "In fact, just last week, she was out raking leaves, and her leg swelled up." Now her mom is in the hospital for blood clots, but because of last year's visit, Donna has a caregiver come twice a week.

"It gives me a peace of mind knowing someone else is coming in to look in on her," she said.

Bettie Wilkie with Home Helpers of East Tennessee said the holidays can lead to the discovery of poor health.

Bettie said, "They come home and they find mom and dad is not doing quite as well they told me they were doing," she described of the common phone calls after a visit.

Bettie said many will notice, "Dad should not be driving anymore. Dad wasn't taking his medications. He wasn't eating properly."

Isolation is common and actually can make issues worse, so a regular visit from a caregiver can go a long way.

There are physical signs something may be wrong mentally.

Linda Johnson with Alzheimer's Tennessee Inc. said, "The house may not be as clean as it should be. You may notice their clothes, they're wearing clothes that may be dirty, or bills are not being paid."

And Linda said the family gatherings themselves may trigger reactions that indicate a form of dementia. "They're not sometimes able to deal with the big crowd, or may not recognize someone even from the last holiday," she said.

And if you think something may be wrong, stay calm, and seek help.

Linda said it's important to get help as soon as possible, because a lot more can be done in the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer's.

Some typical signs of Alzheimer's:

◦ Memory loss especially when it comes to recent or important events, names, placement of objects, and other new information.
Versus sign of “normal aging": Periodically and temporarily forget names, appointments, or where you left your keys.

◦ Disorientation to time and place. Become lost on your own street or forget where you are, how you got there and how to return home.
Versus sign of “normal aging": Forget the day of the week or why you entered a room.

◦ Struggle to complete familiar actions, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed, preparing a meal, or placing a telephone call.
Versus sign of "normal aging”: Sometimes need assistance with an electronic device.

◦ Trouble finding the appropriate words, completing sentences, and following directions and conversations. May repeat and call things by the wrong name.
Versus sign of “normal aging”: Occasionally struggle to find the right word.

◦ Poor judgment when making decisions, for example, wear several shirts on a warm day or give away large sums of money to solicitors. Versus sign of “normal aging”: Make questionable or debatable decisions at times.

◦ Changes in mood and personality, such as increased suspicion, rapid and persistent mood swings, withdrawal, and disinterest in usual activities.
Versus sign of “normal aging”: Feel fatigued by work and social obligations now and then or become irritable when a routine is disrupted.

◦ Difficulty with complex mental assignments, such as balancing a checkbook or other tasks involving numbers or following directions.
Versus sign of “normal aging”: Make a mistake when balancing a checkbook or leave an ingredient out of a recipe every now and then.

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