Is it Normal Aging? Knowing the Signs of Dementia

Our bodies go through a lot of changes as we age. Many people notice changes in their physical capabilities, appearances, and even their cognitive abilities as they age. But, not all of these changes are things to worry about. As we get older, we might experience forgetfulness or minor memory loss and mistake them for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Before you worry about these memory diseases, you should be aware of the normal signs of aging and the signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

Typical Age-Related Changes and Memory Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signs of aging can actually start as young as 30 years old. The CDC published a list of ways aging can show up in our bodies.

Bones
Our bodies go through a lot of wear and tear throughout our lifetimes. It’s no surprise that our bones shrink, making them more fragile as we get older. The cartilage that protects our joints from rubbing together can start to wear down, causing pain and stiffness.

Heart and Blood Vessels
The arteries and blood vessels that pump blood to our hearts can stiffen with old age, causing our hearts to work harder. This means that physical activities like walking or climbing stairs can become much more difficult.

Muscles
According to the CDC, our muscles mass actually decreases 3-5% every decade after we reach the age of 30. This will cause the muscles to become less toned, and less able to contract and become more rigid.

Bladder and Bowels
Our bladder and bowel’s ability to stretch and then go back can decrease after time. This can cause more trips to the restroom, constipation, and leakage.

Skin
As we age, our skin can lose its elasticity, causing wrinkles and loose skin. A loss of elasticity can also make the skin more prone to bruising, scrapes, and cuts.

Vision
Aging can cause the lens in our eyes to harden, causing far-sightedness and cataracts. Cataracts can cause blurry vision and even blindness. If you sense any changes in your vision, make sure to consult your doctor right away.

Forgetfulness
It’s normal to experience forgetfulness and mild memory loss with aging, especially as our brain’s processing becomes slower. It’s not uncommon to forget appointments, when bills are due, or where you’ve put your eyeglasses. However, there is a difference between the symptoms of normal aging and the signs of dementia.

Common Signs of Dementia

Dementia is an overall term given to diseases and conditions involving severe memory loss. While forgetfulness is an expected part of aging, it can often be confused with the symptoms of dementia related diseases. If you’re having trouble differentiating between age-related forgetfulness and dementia, the NIA has published a list of warning signs.

Normal Aging Memory Loss:

  • Sporadic errors in decision-making
  • Occasionally missing payments on a bill
  • Forgetting which day it is
  • Misplacing common items such as keys or glasses

Signs of Dementia:

  • Making poor judgments most of the time
  • Forgetting to pay bills all of the time
  • Forgetting which day it is and being unable to recall it
  • Trouble with communicating needs or wants
  • Misplacing things and forgetting about them

Factors Influencing Memory Loss

While many older adults are affected by dementia, it’s not the only reason for changes in memory. In fact, memory loss can be attributed to a number of different factors.

Medical
Issues with blood flow, such as tumors and blood clots, can cause infections in the brain. Complications with medications, especially when consuming more than one type, can cause memory loss and confusion.

Emotional
We all go through trying times. But, it’s not uncommon to forget the affect they can have on our physical and mental states. Anxiety, depression, and stress can make us feel more forgetful. These symptoms can mirror those that come with dementia.

Genetics
While dementia and Alzheimer’s can be difficult to predict, researchers suggest that those who have a family history of memory disease are at a higher risk of developing a form of dementia themselves.

Cholesterol
High levels of cholesterol could increase your chances of developing dementia. Researchers suggest eating a balanced diet and discussing your heart-health with your healthcare provider.

Symptoms to Watch For

While the severity of dementia can vary in each person, there are some common symptoms that present themselves in dementia patients. The University of California San Francisco published a list of the most common dementia symptoms:

  • Getting lost even in familiar places
  • Asking repetitive questions
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Changes in personality
  • Inability to express feelings and emotions
  • Change in ability to comprehend
  • Forgetting recent events
  • Change in diet and appetite

Approaching a Loved One About Their Symptoms

Starting a conversation with a loved one about their signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can be extremely difficult. If your loved one is showing patterns of behavioral change, knowing how they will react to the conversation can be hard to predict. You might consider some following these tips to help guide your conversation:

Plan how you will start the conversation
Starting the conversation can be the hardest part. You might consider starting with, “I’ve noticed some changes in your behavior and I was wondering if you noticed anything too?”

Start the conversation early
You should have this conversation when you start noticing obvious behavioral changes. Approaching this conversation when your loved one’s cognitive function is at its highest will help you make decisions according to your loved one’s wishes.

Know who should be there
If your loved one is especially close with a family member or friend, you might consider asking them to be a part of the conversation.

Offer your support
This can be a scary time for the whole family. Offering your love and support to your loved one can go a long way.

Finding Support in Your Journey at Maplewood Senior Living

Navigating the complexities of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss can be really scary. If you’re still unsure if you’re experiencing the signs of dementia, check out our tip sheet. Our staff and caregivers at all of our Maplewood Senior Living communities strive to give our residents and their families the care and support they need. To learn more about our communities and our wide variety of offerings, schedule a tour or contact us here.

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