NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – With the holiday season officially underway, experts are urging people to look out for signs of a serious illness while spending much-needed time with their family. In Tennessee, there are more than 120,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

“You know, Mom might come in for Thanksgiving, they have not seen her for a period of time, or for Christmas and they might notice a lot more short-term memory issues, word finding, forgetting how to do things that we were able to do before,” said Dr. David Hutchings with BlueSky House Calls.

Hutchings says around the holidays is the right time to have some of those tough conversations.

“It’s a difficult topic to bring up to people, it is, but while the family is together and there is more awareness that there could be something going on with the person’s memory, it’s a time where the family is together and can talk about it,” Hutchings explained.

Catching the early signs of both Alzheimer’s and dementia is key to being a step ahead of the illness. For Dr. Hutchings, it’s a personal cause for him.

“We have it in our family. My sister had some memory issues at a very young age, my father-in-law has Lewy Body [dementia], my stepfather has vascular dementia, so it’s something that I feel like I can help families with, and also it’s in my own family too,” Hutchings said.

Our sister station News 2 asked what are some signs family members should look out for. He said, “if we see any changes in personality, if we see an increase in short-term memory issues, word finding like we’re trying to say something or complete a thought and we have difficulty doing that.”

Oftentimes, those signs could translate into something more serious, like Silver Alerts. So far this year, the Tennesee Bureau of Investigation has issued nearly 100 Silver Alerts, the majority of them having suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Hutchings explained, during the holidays the risk of someone going missing could increase.

“If we have patients who have memory issues, they have processing problems, and also with all these people around there’s increased stimuli, which also we see then, we see their anxiety go up, we see depression,” Hutchings said. “I’ve had several alerts this year, and that’s something I’m always looking for in my patients is that if they are in an assisted-living environment are they a risk to be leaving.”

It’s a constant battle many see and fear every day. Susie Knight explained she and her family had grown used to dealing with her father’s illness. For years, they had worked to make him comfortable, when one day during vacation, her father went missing.

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“That’s when the nightmare really began,” Knight said.

In 2021, Knight’s father went missing out of Jefferson County, and shortly after, a Silver Alert was released.

Knight is now encouraging others to reach out for help when dealing with this illness within family members. She said, “ask for help when you’re dealing with someone, use all the resources that you can. Check with the insurance, check to see if you can get assisted care, and check the whole thing because it is a lot of responsibility.”