Is It Normal or Is It Dementia?
Misplaced glasses, forgotten plans, drawing a blank when running into a neighbor at the store, many older adults have had the occasional “senior moment.” So often older adults and their loved ones grow concerned when they experience a lapse in memory. In moments of forgetfulness, many older adults fear that they are headed towards a dementia diagnosis. However, as we age, certain changes are going to occur. We’re not as flexible as we once were or able to run as fast as we could in our youth. Gray hair overtakes our heads and wrinkles reveal our lack of youthfulness. Similarly, our minds also change as we age. In fact, according to Medical News Today, we can expect our brains to change more than any other part of our body throughout our lifetime. So, when do those “senior moments” cross over into the realm of dementia? Here are a few tips to help you discern the difference between normal aging and dementia.
Normal AgingAs we age, our brain’s ability to process, store, and recall information begins to slow. Multitasking can become a challenge as we grow older, as well as the ability to recall new names and faces. Older adults can find it more difficult to learn something new and may struggle with remembering appointments. These are all signs of normal aging. Our brain’s ability to process information peaks around 18 years of age, according to new research published in Sage Journals. In fact, other functions of our brain peak at various ages, from concentration peaking around age 43 to vocabulary skills peaking at age 67. Therefore, many older adults are going to experience lapses in memory from time to time.
Have you ever forgotten where you put your car keys, only to discover that you’ve been holding them this whole time? Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you were looking for once you walked into the room? Have you been late to a doctor appointment or meeting a friend for lunch because you forgot about it? These are examples of normal aging memory lapses. They happen to everyone, and there’s usually a cause or factor that contributes to the memory lapse, such as a change in routine or added stress.
DementiaWhen lapses in memory become more and more frequent, and disrupt everyday life, then it’s more than just a “senior moment.” The Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as “the general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.” Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a group of symptoms associated with memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, with vascular dementia coming in second.
There are reversible dementias that usually are a result of a medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection or mismanaged medication. Once the issue is addressed and properly treated, the dementia subsides and the older adult returns to their baseline. Most forms of dementia are irreversible, which means that once the damage to the brain has occurred, there is no recovery. Most dementias are also progressive, meaning the symptoms worsen over time. For some older adults, early signs of dementia are often masked. They can convince their family that they are just having a “senior moment” when in reality, their forgetfulness is interfering with their everyday life. As dementia progresses though, an older adult can no longer mask their forgetfulness.
Whereas some forgetfulness is normal when it comes to aging, as in the forgetting where the car keys are example, what isn’t normal is forgetting how to drive or how to get home from familiar locations. Forgetting names, especially new names, is normal; forgetting names of close family members and lifelong friends isn’t normal. Forgetting a doctor appointment from time to time is normal, forgetting routine tasks, such as washing your hair or eating dinner, isn’t normal aging. It’s time to seek a professional evaluation when daily life is disrupted in one or more of the following core brain functions: recent memory, language, visuospatial function, and executive function. If there is any concern about memory loss, it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor and establish a baseline for your memory, so that over time, you and your doctor can evaluate any change.
Free Memory Screening Clinic At Visiting Angels Punta Gorda
At Visiting Angels Punta Gorda, we are here to help. If you are concerned about memory loss in yourself or your aging loved one, we would love to come alongside you to help you determine the next steps. Take advantage of our free memory screening clinic through the Alzheimer’s Foundation, Wednesdays from 10:00 am to 3:30 pm. The screening is free; however, we do require an appointment. To schedule your appointment, please call us at 941-347-8288.