Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or Aging? How Do You Tell the Difference?


Dementia is not a specific disease, but a general term

that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. The second leading type is Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke. There are several other conditions, some reversible, that can cause symptoms of dementia, including such simple things as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

Dementia is often confused with “senility” or “senile dementia,” which reflects the common but false idea that serious mental decline is a normal part of aging.

Sometimes, the underlying cause or medical condition is treatable and early treatment can slow the progression of untreatable types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. The sooner symptoms are recognized and treatment is sought, the less frustration your family will experience in finding appropriate treatment and care options.

How can you tell if your loved one is exhibiting signs of dementia of if they are experiencing the normal process of aging?

Common symptoms of dementia include having problems with short-term memory, trouble keeping track of a purse or wallet, forgetting to pay bills, inability to plan or prepare meals, trouble remembering appointments, or getting lost when traveling out of the neighborhood.

Some other signs to watch for:

  1. A Change in Walking or Balance A 2006 study found, the first indicators of future dementia appeared to be problems with walking and balance. A weak handgrip may be a later sign of the development of dementia in older people.
  2. Having a Fall
    An increased risk of falls has been noted among individuals whose scans showed early signs of Alzheimer’s. ¹
  3. Inability to Recognize Lies or Sarcasm“The ability to detect lies resides in the brain’s frontal lobe. In diseases like frontotemporal dementia, this is one of the areas that progressively degenerates because of the accumulation of damaged proteins known as tau and the death of neurons in those areas.”²
  4. Socially Inappropriate Behavior
    This includes severe behavioral changes, being socially inappropriate, or undergoing fundamental shifts in outlook such as switching political affiliations or changing religions.

Elder and Doctor Discussing CareThe best course of action to take if your loved one is showing signs of dementia is to schedule an appointment with their doctor, who can appropriately assess their condition and help you to plan ahead. Knowing what to expect and having the right resources to draw from can help your family to plan ahead and reduce the stress level for everyone involved.

Contact your doctor, local assisted living facility, elder care institution, or an in home care professional for more information on the Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

¹ http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/bones-joints-and-muscles/articles/2011/07/17/falls-could-signal-early-alzheimers-disease
²http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/04/9719/inability-detect-sarcasm-lies-may-be-early-sign-dementia-ucsf-study-shows
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