MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than 80,000 Minnesotans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota.

It’s the most common form of dementia and sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

The association says the holidays are a prime time to recognize early signs of Alzheimer’s and the first step to helping a loved one in need.

Brent and Chris Olson know all about coping with the illness.

In 2007, Chris, who was in her late 50s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s been hell,” she said.

Chris is a former nurse. Her husband said “she would get it right every time for every doctor. She lost her edge.”

Chris said her life has changed, drastically. Many people turned away, instead of showing support.

“I have no friends,” Chris said. “My best friends walked from me.”

But the time she shares with her husband and daughters are the good days.

She enjoys moments such as looking through old photo albums, getting dressed up for a night on the town and spending time with her granddaughters.

Her favorite pastime is sewing mittens.

This is the first time in five years her family has been together to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Breanna and Shanna moved back home to help care for their mother.

Together, they’re raising awareness and money for research.

Their event, Blondes vs. Brunettes, a flag football game, has brought in more than $300,000 in the past two years.

The Alzheimer’s Association says families should look for early symptoms of the disease during the holidays. Symptoms include change in mood or personality, decreased or poor judgment and memory loss.

“Thanksgiving time, Christmas time tends to be when families may gather and when you’re not around someone all the time you may pick up on those changes,” said Debbie Richman, director of education and outreach for Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota.

“If you see something, don’t run away from it,” Brent said. “Go to it. It’s the only way we’re going to change this and find a cure.”

Chris is now in the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s.

She experiences memory loss and the woman once outgoing is now more quiet and reserved.

Also, she sometimes struggles to find the right words.

The Alzheimer’s Association says there’s usually an increase in calls to its 24-hour helpline during and after the holiday season.

If you have a question, or doubt the state of an aging family member or friend, please call 1-800-272-3900.