Normal memory loss, Dementia, and Alzheimers. Terms commonly thrown around and oftentimes used interchangeably. But, where do you draw the line? Where does the one end and the other begin? And when should you worry?
Dementia vs Alzheimer’s
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are terms often used interchangeably, but they actually have different meanings. Dementia is not a specific disease. It’s an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms that affect people’s ability to perform everyday activities on their own. It affects roughly 5.6 million older adults (age 65+).
While dementia is a general term, Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease.
Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia, but it’s not the only one. It is marked by symptoms of dementia that gradually worsen over time.
Alzheimer’s first affects the part of the brain associated with learning, so early symptom include changes in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. Most especially marked is the difficultly remembering things, particularly new information. People who are aging normally may forget things as well, but, they will typically remember them later. With Alzheimers that doesn’t happen. “You forget something and then you don’t get that information back, it doesn’t seem familiar to you even if someone reminds you,”
Normal memory loss, caused by aging, is quite different. With the person remembering things again at a later stage. Having memory loss alone doesn’t necessarily mean you have dementia, but it can be a warning sign.
10 Common Warning Signs of Dementia
The 10 most common warning signs of dementia include the following:
- Being vague in everyday conversations
- Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
- Short-term memory loss
- Difficulty performing everyday tasks and taking longer to do routine tasks
- Losing enthusiasm or interest in regular activities
- Difficulties in thinking or saying the right words
- Changes in personality or behavior
- Finding it difficult to follow instructions
- Finding it difficult to follow stories
- Increased emotional unpredictability.
Alzheimer’s vs normal age-related memory changes
So, what’s the difference between the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer’s and normal age-related memory loss?
Someone with age-related cognitive changes:
- Forgets part of an experience
- Often remembers later
- Is usually able to follow directions
- Can use notes and other memory devices as reminders
- Is usually able to care for self (though may have physical limitations)
Someone with Alzheimer’s disease symptoms:
- Forgets entire experiences
- Rarely remembers later
- Is gradually unable to follow written/spoken directions
- Is gradually unable to use notes as reminders
- Is gradually unable to care for self
- Memory loss
Forgetting names or appointments occasionally is normal.
But frequently forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia. Bouts of forgetfulness become more frequent and the person is unable to recall the information later. Sometimes ever.
- Difficulty performing familiar tasks
It’s normal to sometimes forget why you came into a room or if you have just done something.
But for people with dementia, it becomes increasingly difficult to plan or complete everyday tasks. A sense of overwhelm and confusion starts to set in as individuals lose track of the steps involved in preparing a meal, or using a cell phone
- Problems with language
Everyone, at some point, struggles to find the right word,
But people with Alzheimer’s often forget simple words or substitute words, making them hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead, ask for “that thing I use for my teeth.”
- Disorientation to time and place
Forgetting the day of the week or where you were going can be a normal sign of aging.
But people with Alzheimer’s disease can get lost in once familiar surroundings, forgetting where they are and how they got there, and not knowing how to get back home.
- Poor or decreased judgment
We all experience lapses in judgement.
But those with Alzheimer’s tend to make irrational decisions and statements. Wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold.
- Problems with abstract thinking
Abstract thinking can be a challenge for everyone. Balancing your checkbook is a case in point.
But, with Alzheimer’s complex mental tasks become increasingly problematic, forgetting what numbers are and how they should be used.
- Misplacing things
Everyone misplaces things. We forget where we put our keys, our phone, or our wallet. We can even leave them at home by accident. All normal.
It becomes more concerning when the lost iron is found in the refrigerator or the missing socks in the fruit bowl.
- Changes in mood or behavior
Alzheimer’s is marked by rapid mood swings – from calm to tears to anger – in split seconds, for no apparent reason.
- Changes in personality
Yes, our personalities do change somewhat with age. We can become more outspoken, more impatient, or more patient.
But the personalities of people with dementia change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful, or dependent on a family member.
- Loss of initiative
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual, or not wanting to do usual activities.
Identifying the problem
There is a lot of confusion experienced by families at the onset of both Dementia and Alzheimers, as to whether or not there is a problem. But, if you are asking the question, consider it a problem.
If your loved one displays several of these common warning signs consult a physician and to put your mind at ease, take the SAGE test
What is the SAGE test:
The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam was developed by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
The exam is self-administered and is specifically designed to identify early warning signs of memory, cognitive, or thinking impairments. It is NOT a means to diagnose, but it is a way to evaluate cognitive brain function and monitor it over time.
If you observe some of the common symptoms of dementia in you or your loved ones, then taking this test can give you the answer you need, to determine if a further evaluation is necessary. Or set your mind at ease.
The SAGE is taken at home, is easy to administer, and can be done on a regular basis. It will NOT lead to a diagnosis so please don’t use it as such, but it will give you direction and a reference point to discuss with your physician.
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