Early warning sign of dementia could be making this simple mistake on Christmas Day

For many people, Christmas is a time spent with family, young and old. While the food, presents, fun and games take centre stage, it may also be an opportunity to spot the early signs of health issues in loved ones.

Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia and Older Peoples’ Mental Health, urged people back in 2017 to spot dementia warning signs loved ones at Christmas.

His message came as the Alzheimer’s Society confirmed its support line receives an increase in calls in January after Christmas gatherings.

One of the first things to look out for, according to Professor Burns, is something as simple as forgetting to put the oven on for the Christmas turkey. He said this may be a warning that a loved one is experiencing the early stages of dementia.

Other things he said to look out for:

Confusion in a new environment – someone may become disoriented or confused when in a new place. A family holiday in a hotel can be a time when a person can become confused and may include trying to get into the wrong bedroom.

Forgetting the names of loved ones to the extent that it causes embarrassment.

Being at a relative’s house where the lay out is unusual could put a person’s memory and orientation to the test.

Forgetting someone’s present – it might not be a very close relative but sometimes a niece or a nephew’s present can be forgotten as it slips from memory.

Complex tasks such as cooking a big Christmas dinner for a large number of people. The sign could be something as obvious as forgetting to switch the oven on, forgetting to put the sprouts on or cooking things in the wrong order.

Research shows there are more than 944,00 people in the UK who have dementia, with one in 11 people over the age of 65 diagnosed with the condition.

The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer.

Professor Burns said: “Dementia is something that happens slowly so it may slip by unnoticed in people we see regularly. That’s why the Christmas visit to wider family and friends is an opportunity to spot the early warning signs.

“The NHS is here to help, but diagnosis is the first big step and this is where people who know someone best can really make a difference in spotting the signs of dementia.

“The important thing is to look for changes in normal behaviour. I’m not a great cook so 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 in to see them, it will be greatly appreciated and can make a huge difference to their mental health.”

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