Approaching memory concerns this holiday season


By Marisa Korytko

For Capital Region Independent Media


Last year, the pandemic caused many families to adjust holiday gatherings due to public health concerns. As we return to more in-person celebrations this year, cognitive or memory changes in an elderly loved one may be both alarming and cause deep concerns.

Visiting aging loved ones after being apart for so long might lead to the realization of some changes in behaviors, physical health, and new experiences of memory loss or cognitive decline. When families begin noticing these changes there can be a variety of responses and moments of uncertainty. Families often do not know where to turn or what to do in these moments.

As our loved ones age, we often attribute memory loss to a normal part of aging when some behaviors or issues of cognitive decline could potentially be a sign of something more severe.

“Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive disease where symptoms gradually worsen over time,” said Beth Smith-Boivin, executive director for the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

With Alzheimer’s being the fifth leading cause of death for adults who are 65 and older, Smith-Boivin wants to remind families of the following 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Memory changes that disrupt daily life, such as forgetting important events;
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, such as keeping track of monthly bills;
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks, such as driving to routine places;
  • Confusion with time or place, such as the date;
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, such as reading;
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing, such as inappropriate words;
  • Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps, such as putting ice cream in the medicine cabinet;
  • Decreased or poor judgment, such as giving large sums of money to telemarketers;
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities, such as forgetting how to finish a favorite hobby; and,
  • Changes in mood and personality, such as becoming angry or fearful.

“The holidays revolve around traditions, things we’ve done for a long time, so if you are seeing a change in someone completing a familiar task, it’s important to have a conversation with their health care providers,” Smith-Boivin said. “Ignoring signs of cognitive impairment out of fear or denial can lead to greater heartache in the future and the possible worsening of the situation.”

According to Smith-Boivin, The Alzheimer’s Association sees the number of calls to its 24-hour helpline (800-272-3900) increase during and after the holidays when people visiting with friends and family whom they haven’t seen in a while become aware that something is not right.

The Association’s Helpline is an ideal place to find answers and resources for additional assistance.

“Helpline calls often lead to local referrals to our Chapter for additional resources, such as free education programs and personalized family care consultations,” Smith-Boivin said.

The 24-hour helpline can also provide help for caregivers, such as a listing of programs that offer care and socialization services. All calls to 800-272-3900 are free and confidential.

Marisa Korytko is the public relations director for the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York chapter. She can be reached at

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