It’s perfectly normal for your memory to become a bit less reliable as you age — you may have trouble recalling the name of a long-time acquaintance, or you may repeat the same stories to the same people more often than you realize. You may also find it harder to keep track of those pesky keys.
Everyone forgets things from time to time, and most adults experience more frequent memory lapses as they get older. So how can you tell if your absentminded moments are a normal part of aging or an early sign of dementia?
If you’re troubled by forgetfulness, board-certified neurologist Luay Shayya, MD, and the team at Neurology Consultants of Arizona can help. Let’s explore how dementia differs from ordinary aging, and why you shouldn’t hesitate to look into your problem when it affects your daily life.
Dementia is a general medical term that covers a variety of chronic disorders, most of which cause a progressive decline in cognitive function, or your brain’s ability to process thought. On top of causing memory problems, dementia also affects learning, comprehension, reasoning, judgement, and communication. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t affect is consciousness.
Dementia is a widespread problem that affects about 50 million people around the world, with nearly 10 million new cases each year. It’s also an increasingly common problem.
Experts estimate that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for up to 80% of dementia cases. Although increasing age is the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s (most people who develop it are past the age of 65), it isn’t a side effect of normal aging. It’s a progressive brain condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal disorders are other major forms of the disease. The boundaries between different forms of dementia are indistinct, and many people develop more than one type.
Dementia or normal aging?
Dementia is often incorrectly referred to as “senility” or “senile dementia,” reinforcing the outdated and widely held belief that severe mental decline is simply a normal part of aging that most adults are bound to face the longer they live.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, no matter how similar the normal signs of aging and the early symptoms of dementia may appear to be. Here’s how the most common early indicators of dementia compare to normal aging:
Memory loss and recall problems
Most adults become more forgetful and even lose some of their memories as they grow older, so it can be difficult to know when memory loss is cause for concern. If you’re eventually able to remember the thing you forgot, whether it’s someone’s name, a word, or a missed meeting, chances are you’re just experiencing the effects of normal aging.
In its earliest stages, dementia makes it harder to recall recently learned information; it also makes you more likely to repeat yourself and forget appointments. When memory lapses limit your life or make it less enjoyable, it’s a good idea to have the problem checked out as soon as possible.
Losing or misplacing things
It’s those darn keys (or that sneaky wallet, purse, or cell phone) again. Everyone misplaces or loses things from time to time, but someone with dementia typically does so more often. The key difference is that someone with dementia isn’t able to retrace their steps and find the thing they lost.
Normal aging may cause you to lose or misplace things more often, but you can still retrace your steps and find them.
Planning and problem-solving challenges
Getting older may cause you to make the occasional error or misstep when managing finances, following a familiar recipe, or even playing a favorite game, but such slip-ups tend to be minor and relatively rare.
The brain changes caused by dementia, on the other hand, can make it increasingly difficult to keep track of monthly bills, plan and execute meals, or work out the logistics of a busy day.
If routine tasks seem significantly harder than before, or if they take much longer to complete than they used to, Dr. Shayya can help you get to the bottom of it.
Knowing when to get help
If any of these problems sound familiar, don’t ignore them in the hopes that they’ll improve on their own or simply stay the same — call Neurology Consultants of Arizona for a neurological exam as soon as possible.
Sometimes, memory loss and thinking problems are related to a treatable medical condition like kidney disease or hypothyroidism. In such cases, addressing the underlying disorder is often all it takes to alleviate dementia symptoms.
Even though dementia can’t be cured, early diagnosis and the right treatment approach can help slow its progression and keep your symptoms under control, giving you time to enjoy life, make new memories with your family, and plan for the future.
Neurology Consultants of Arizona can provide a complete assessment and customized treatment plan that targets your type of dementia. To learn more, call our Scottsdale, Arizona, office today, or click online any time to schedule a visit with Dr. Shayya.