Senior Moments

How to Tell the Difference Between Normal Forgetfulness and Dementia

“Now where did I leave my glasses? Let’s see. I went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee and then I noticed the cat’s dish was empty so I went to the pantry to get cat food. After I filled the bowl I got my coffee and then the phone rang and. . . aha! Here they are, next to the phone.”

Sound familiar? Most of us who are older misplace or forget things from time to time and joke about having “senior moments” but when the problem becomes chronic, it is not a laughing matter.

It could be a sign of dementia, the general term used to describe symptoms caused by a number of brain disorders that cause loss of memory and intellectual ability severe enough to interfere with everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common types of dementia accounting for 60% to 80% of dementia cases. Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease that destroys neurons, the specialized nerve cells that form communication networks in our brains.

It is incurable and indiscriminate. It can’t be prevented. We don’t know what causes it but age is the most important known risk factor which has led to the unfortunate slang term, “Old timer’s Disease.” It is, in a word, terrifying and as of 2015 more than 5 million of us in the United States have it. It is doubtful that anyone reading this has not been touched by this dreadful disease in some way.

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“Everyone with a brain is at risk for Alzheimer’s”

—Alzheimer’s Association

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Wait! Before you click out of this post and move on to happier topics, let me reassure you that having “senior moments” does not automatically mean you are developing dementia. Our brains undergo changes with age just like every other organ in our bodies. It takes us longer to learn new things and to process information but our levels of intelligence remains intact. We make better decisions because of the wisdom and knowledge we’ve accumulated from our life experiences and in some aspects our mental abilities can show marked improvement. In fact, some studies show that once we’ve learned something new, older learners actually retain information better than younger people. Serious memory impairment is not part of normal aging.

So how do we determine what’s normal and what’s not?

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

The Alzheimer’s Association has published these 10 warning signs which may be experienced in different degrees:

1.  Memory loss that disrupts daily life

Normal aging: Occasionally forgetting an appointment but remembering it later.

Some red flags: Asking for the same information repeatedly, forgetting important dates or appointments with no memory of them.

2.  Challenges in planning or solving problems.

Normal aging: Making calculation errors and then correcting them.

Some red flags: Difficulty keeping track of monthly bills or working with numbers.

 3.  Difficulty completing familiar tasks.

Normal aging: Needing to review instructions on how to do something you don’t do on  a regular basis such as using a computer application.

Some red flags: Getting lost on familiar routes or not being able to follow the steps of a  favorite recipe.

4.  Confusion with time or place.

Normal aging: Having to look at a calendar to remember what day or date it is.

Some red flags: Inability to name the current month or season or inability to name your location.

 5.  Difficulties with visual or spatial perception.

Normal aging: Vision changes; possibly due to cataracts.

Some red flags: Inability to judge distance or name colors.

6.  New problems speaking or writing.

Normal aging: Lapses in recall.  Finding words on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite spit out.

Some red flags: Repeating the same story or question, forgetting names of common objects or difficulty following a conversation.

 7.  Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps.

Normal aging: Occasionally misplacing things you use all the time or walking into a room and forgetting what you came for.

Some red flags: Putting things in unusual places or accusing others of stealing lost objects.

8.  Decreased or poor judgment.

Normal aging: Making an occasional bad decision but being able to recognize it.

Some red flags: Carelessly spending money or behaving in a socially inappropriate way.

 9. Withdrawal from work or social activities.

Normal aging: Sometimes needing a break or change of pace from normal routine.

Some red flags: Social isolation or loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities.

10.  Changes in mood and personality. 

Normal aging: Disliking changes in your established routine.

Some red flags: Easily upset, angered or fearful when routines are changed.

 

Next: Other causes of memory loss and when to seek help