Normal aging or dementia - how can you distinguish?
Uh-oh. One of your senior relatives is starting to forget things: Where they put their car keys. The name of that restaurant at the beach house that they used to love. The actor in the movie they saw last month.
Or maybe it isn't a relative. Maybe it's you.
Are these "senior moments" normal manifestations of aging, or early signs of Alzheimer's?
In a survey last year, Alzheimer's disease was identified as the second most feared disease following cancer. In the fear factor department, it beat out ominous illnesses like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. As a society, it's something we think about and talk about and worry about a lot. But in reality, most people don't know the difference between Alzheimer's disease and normal aging - and according to a recent survey, even caregivers have confusion about dementia vs. normal aging (PDF).
"A new survey of relatives and friends caring for people now diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other dementia found two-thirds mistook early symptoms for normal cognitive wear and tear. In doing so, they may have delayed proper diagnosis and early treatment for their loved ones."
Alzheimer's Association offers 10 Early Signs and Symptoms to watch for, and they compare these to normal signs of aging. It's worth reading the full discussion, but here's a summary:
1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
4. Confusion with time or place
5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
8. Decreased or poor judgment
9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
10. Changes in mood and personality
Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, but there are other causes, too. It's important to consult with a doctor because some dementia-like symptoms may be treatable - such as drug interactions, thyroid problems, depression, diet, or other causes.
What's "normal" aging?
AARP talks about 6 Types of Normal Memory Lapses - lapses that are not signs of dementia. The article also offers suggestions for how to minimize or counter those pesky so-called senior moments.
Experts say that even if you or a loved one have a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's, you can lower your risk by exercising, losing weight, eating well, and managing any medical conditions like diabetes and stress. In the article Age-Proof Your Brain, they offer 10 ways to keep your mind fit. Among the suggestions are keeping active and fit, engaging in exercise, including weight-bearing exercises, keeping your mind active, seeking out new skills and challenges, setting goals, and keeping socially active. Diet is also very important - - think "Mediterranean diet." Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding fats can be very beneficial. See Foods that lower your risk of Dementia.
If you or one of your employees is grappling with issues related to an aging loved one, we can help. ESI Employee Assistance Program can help caregivers find support and resources. To learn more about how ESI EAP can help, give us a call: 800-535-4841.