In this blog series, The Caregiver’s Toolkit for Alzheimer's and Dementia, we are offering in-depth resources for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Memory loss can be a frustrating — but common — sign of aging. It can be difficult to tell the difference between what’s normal and what are the early signs of more serious cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s memory loss or behavior, consider seeing a physician for a closer look.
Here are some ways to examine the differences between normal age-related memory loss and dementia.
Differences Between Age-Related Memory Loss and Dementia
As we age, changes in our brain can cause mild forgetfulness. Occasionally losing something or forgetting why you walked into a room is considered normal age-related memory loss.
However, if you or a loved one is experiencing frequent forgetfulness and is misplacing things often, it may be an early sign of cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s or other type of dementia.
When assessing signs and symptoms, consider the following differences between age-related memory loss and dementia.
Disruptive Memory Loss
While many of us have forgotten an address or appointment from time to time, we often remember them later or remember when reminded.
Individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s will struggle with this type of information and important dates and events such as holidays and birthdays. They may also ask the same question multiple times a week or even multiple times a day, or have difficulty remembering your answer even if they write it down.
Trouble with Speaking or Writing
Occasionally searching for the right word is normal, but if your loved one continuously has trouble following a conversation or struggles with the name of familiar objects, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Those with early-stage Alzheimer’s may also repeat themselves often or stop and start a conversation abruptly without realizing they have done so.
Confusion with the Familiar
Needing help to program a new phone or set up a television isn’t necessarily a symptom of cognitive decline. However, if your loved one finds completing familiar tasks such as going to the post office, taking medication consistently, or shopping for groceries increasingly challenging, you should pay attention.
While we may sometimes forget which day of the week it is, someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s may lose track of the passage of time entirely or have trouble remembering the season or even the year.
Individuals in the early stages of cognitive decline may increasingly exhibit poor decision-making. However, when discussing poor judgment and Alzheimer’s, it’s vital to remember that an isolated poor decision isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.
They might give money they cannot afford to spend on unusual causes, dress inappropriately for the weather, or forget to perform basic hygiene tasks such as bathing or brushing their teeth and hair. These continual lapses in judgment should be considered a red flag.
Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia
Unfortunately, no one test can determine if someone is in the early stages of dementia. Instead, a diagnosis is based on an individual’s medical history, physical examination, and other factors.
If you believe a loved one may be affected by Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to speak with your medical professional.
Find Additional Caregiver Resources
Be sure to explore some of our other caregiver resources, such as these tips for caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia or activities for adults with Alzheimer’s.
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