Family and friends should look out for early signs of dementia in older relatives this Christmas, urged NHS chiefs.
Something as simple as forgetting to switch the oven could be a sign of an early neurodegenerative condition, they said.
Forgetting to get someone a present could also be a sign of dementia. It doesn’t have to be someone very close, but forgetting to get a niece or nephew a gift should signal alarm bells.
The most important thing is to look for changes to normal behaviour, said Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older Peoples’ Mental Health.
“Dementia is something that happens slowly, so it may slip by unnoticed in people we see regularly,” said Burns. “That’s why the Christmas visit to wider family and friends is an opportunity to spot the early warning signs.
“I’m not a great cook so me not being able to whizz up a Christmas dinner would be no surprise, but when someone who usually shines in the kitchen is forgetting to do the basics, that can be a vital clue.
“While it may be tempting to put forgetfulness down to one too many Christmas brandies, it could be a sign of something more serious, so I would urge everyone to take a bit of extra time to consider if someone they know may need help.
“And finally, remember Christmas can be a time of real loneliness for many people, so if you have or know of a relative or neighbour who might be alone, make sure you pop into see them, it will be greatly appreciated and can make a huge difference to their mental health.”
Confusion in a new environment and forgetting the names of family are early signs of dementia to watch out for this Christmas, Burns said.
Being at a relative’s house where the layout is different from normal could test a person’s memory and orientation.
Forgetting to cook certain vegetables for Christmas dinner, or cooking food in the wrong order are warning signs of dementia, Burns urged.
The Alzheimer’s Society said it gets an influx of calls on its helpline in January, after Christmas gatherings.
“It can be difficult to know how to discuss concerns with a loved one, and there is no right or wrong way to approach this,” said the Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of Advice, Erika Aldridge.
“If you do notice any changes in someone close to you that gives you cause for concern, such as repeated forgetfulness, confusion or behaviour that is out of character, our helpline is here to offer you expert advice.”
About 850,000 people have dementia in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.
The condition is estimated to cost the NHS £23billion a year.