This Is Us and Alzheimer's


The latest storyline on This Is Us will feel familiar to many with aging parents: the worry of whether the small moments of absentmindedness we observe from our parents may actually be indications of a larger decline in their health.

The character, Randall, is one of Rebecca’s three adult children. In recent episodes, he has been growing increasingly concerned about some of his mom’s changes in behavior: she misplaced her phone, had a moment of confusion, forgot a name. These things may not be alarming for everyone, but it is very uncharacteristic of the Rebecca that regular viewers of the show have come to know, and Randall’s character hones in on it. TV shows tailor their scenes around story arcs and, in the art of storytelling, this show has flashed to various scenes where an older version of Rebecca is bedridden and can’t remember Randall’s name. These scenes make it clear that Rebecca is on the unfortunate path of dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

But real life is never that clear. 

We face the challenge of discerning whether Mom’s recent forgetfulness is a typical sign of aging, or something to worry about. We have to evaluate whether Dad’s missed bill is just a common human error, or cause for concern. It can be difficult to figure out when to brush it off, and when to bring in medical help.

The answer? Determine whether the incident is part of a larger trend in your aging parent’s behavior, or simply an isolated situation. After all, a mistake can be just a mistake, and not cause for alarm. It’s normal, for example, for Mom to misplace a phone – especially if she can retrace her steps to find it. But if she, like Rebecca, misplaces that phone and doesn’t know how to go about figuring it out on her own … it could be an indicator of a larger challenge. Keep an eye out, especially, if that behavior coexists with other early indicators. Does your loved one forget how to do familiar things? Are their bouts of memory loss disrupting daily life? Other things to pay attention to:

  • Is your loved one getting lost in a familiar place? 
  • Are the same questions being asked over and over?
  • Did they forget about an event that happened lately, such as a recent family gathering?
  • Have their hygiene habits changed?
  • Have they been stumbling or falling more frequently?
  • Are they having a tough time with something familiar, such as a recipe they’ve made countless times?
  • Are they having challenges in solving problems they used to handle on their own?

The holidays are a good time to ponder these questions, since they’re natural benchmarks of time. If you’re visiting parents that live out of town, note the differences in their behavior today versus last time you saw them. If you see your parents more regularly, observe the changes this holiday versus the last one. This may help you notice trends that show more subtly over times of frequent contact.

For additional resources on signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org.

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