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Is it Age-Related or Dementia?

This is an unsettling question to have to answer. As we watch our parents age, it’s tempting to dismiss his or her increasing forgetfulness as part of “getting old”. Yet, inside, the questioning continues to gnaw away. “Is it just age-related, or are these early signs of a dementia, such as Alzheimer’s?”   

To help answer that unsettling question, the Alzheimer’s Association has published a list of the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Here is a summary of the warning signs. You will want to read the full descriptions from the Alzheimer’s Association, which you can access here.

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. Forgetting important dates or needing to increasingly rely on reminder notes or family members. Age-related changes would involve sometimes forgetting names or dates but remembering them later.
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. Having to concentrate harder to follow a simple plan or keep track of bills. May not be able to follow a simple recipe. Age-related changes would involve making occasional errors, such as balancing a checkbook.
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure. Having trouble driving to a familiar place or remembering the rules of a favorite game. Age-related changes would include occasionally needing help recording a TV show or using the settings on your microwave.
  4. Confusion with time or place. Losing track of dates, seasons and the passage of time. Age-related changes would include getting confused as to the day of the week but figuring it out later.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. Experiencing vision and spatial issues, which cause difficulty in reading or judging distance, colors and contrast. Age-related changes would involve vision issues due to cataracts or macular degeneration.
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. Having trouble following or joining in a conversation. They may repeat themselves over and over again. They may forget common words and substitute other words, such as calling a “watch” a “hand clock”. Age-related changes would involve occasionally having trouble finding the right word.
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. Putting things in unusual places. May lose something and not be able to retrace steps to find it. Age-related changes would include misplacing things occasionally and retracing steps to find it.
  8. Decreased or poor judgement. Becoming irresponsible and confused dealing with money. They may pay less attention to daily grooming. Age-related changes would include an occasional bad decision.
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. Removing themselves from favorite hobbies or social activities because they can no longer understand them or keep up. Age-related changes would include feeling weary of work, social obligations.
  10. Changes in mood and personality. Becoming more confused, suspicious, and/or easily upset with friends and family. Age-related changes would include becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

If you notice any of the above warning signs, your next step would be to contact your loved one’s doctor for an assessment. It may or may not be dementia. However, the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better. While there is no cure yet, there are medications available that can slow the progression of the disease.

It is important to know that, should your loved one be diagnosed with dementia, there are resources and support groups available to help. Don’t give up. You are not alone!