11Alive Chat: How to identify signs of dementia

1:27 AM, Dec 5, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The tragic story of Lucilla Harris has shone a spotlight on the issue of dementia.

Ms. Harris, 72, was reported missing on November 25th after family tried to contact her at her northwest Atlanta home. Her body was found five days later near a Henry County neighborhood. Her car was parked nearby.


Relatives said Harris suffered with bouts of dementia, but was never formally diagnosed. When pulled over by a Henry County police officer Saturday night, she said she was lost and trying to get back to Atlanta. She was later seen on a neighbor's surveillance camera, approaching his door for help. The neighbor was not home.

She was ultimately found lying in a wooded area near her car, dead of apparent exposure.

Her death resonates heavily with the more than 500,000 Georgians caring for a family member with some form of dementia. It raises a question many face: when and how to go about seeking formal diagnosis.

Wednesday, 11Alive News hosted a live Facebook chat with experts from the Alzheimer's Association available to answer viewer questions.

Leslie Anderson, President and CEO of the Georgia chapter, said the most important thing a family can do is recognize the early signs of dementia.

Those signs include short-term memory loss and misplacing items around the house. A complete list can be found on the Alzheimer's Association website.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations partners with Alzheimer's Association to offer training for law enforcement officers statewide.

Special Agent Debbie Shaw, training coordinator for GBI, said the agency arranges more than 70 training courses each year, reaching agencies across the state.

The courses are designed to help officers know what to do when encountering an individual displaying symptoms of dementia.

Finally, experts say one of the most difficult elements of the process can be having that initial conversation with a loved one, and taking steps to get a formal diagnosis.

The Alzheimer's Association has a 24-hour hotline to help with that process: 1-800-272-3900.

"Sometimes families might not see the changes because they're gradual or perhaps they don't want to see the changes," Anderson said.

"We encourage people that knowledge is power. There's so much more you can do to help your loved one once you get that definitive diagnosis."

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