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Memory Series: Normal Aging vs. Dementia

Having a Senior Moment: Is it Normal Aging or Something Else?

Maybe you or a loved one keep forgetting where they put their keys, or look all through the house for their glasses only to discover they’re on top of their head. Or perhaps you’ve walked into a room and completely forgotten why you’ve gone in there. Or a word is just on the tip of your tongue.

Face it – as we get older, our brains don’t often work as well as they did when we were young. There’s a lot of information to pack in there, so it’s completely normal to forget an appointment here or there, or call your granddaughter by the dog’s name or mix up what day it is. But when it happens to you or a loved one, you can start to think: should I worry? Is this dementia?

Normal aging or dementia?

It’s a common worry, especially as we get older and as these episodes seem to become more and more frequent. How can you tell if those senior moments you’re experiencing are something to shrug off – or something that you should follow up on?

First, let’s clear a few things up. Almost 40 percent of seniors have some form of memory loss – and it’s completely normal. It’s known as "age-associated memory impairment," or “normal aging forgetfulness,” and is part of the normal aging process. However, dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease are not part of the normal aging process. If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, here are 10 key factors that differentiate normal whoopsies from something more serious.

1. Memory loss.

Normal aging: Forgetting the name of someone you just met.

Dementia: Forgetting the names of your children or other important information.

2. Difficulty planning and solving problems.

Normal aging: Making mistakes every once in a while, like forgetting to pay a bill or not remembering that one ingredient in a recipe.

Dementia: Consistently having trouble staying on top of monthly bills, having a hard time concentrating and taking a lot longer to do daily tasks.

3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks.

Normal aging: Having to pull out the user’s manual when trying to figure out a setting on the microwave or television.

Dementia: Having trouble remembering how to get to a familiar destination, the rules of a favorite game or performing work tasks.

4. Confusion with place or time.

Normal aging: Mixing up the days of the week or forgetting why you walked into a room.

Dementia: Not remembering what month or season it is, or not knowing where you are or how you got there.

5. Trouble with spatial and visual relationships.

Normal: Vision difficulty due to physical ailments like cataracts or generally failing eyesight.

Dementia: Not recognizing your reflection in a mirror, having a hard time differentiating contrasting colors and worsening depth perception.

6. Language difficulty.

Normal: Having a hard time finding the right word every once in a while.

Dementia: Having difficulty following conversations, substituting similar-sounding words or repeating things over and over.

7. Misplacing items.

Normal: Not remembering where you put that darned remote control again.

Dementia: Losing objects and accusing others of stealing them.

8. Poor judgement.

Normal: Making a bad judgement every so often.

Dementia: Showing increasingly poor judgement, such as giving large amounts of money to telemarketers or going for a walk with no coat in the middle of winter.

9. Social isolation.

Normal: Being tired on occasion and declining to meet up with friends or family.

Dementia: Removing yourself from hobbies and activities you love, and avoiding all social contact.

10. Personality and mood changes.

Normal: Getting grumpy sometimes if your routine is disrupted or when you’re tired.

Dementia: Becoming easily confused, fearful, anxious, obsessive or angry over little things.

While dementia can only be officially diagnosed by a medical professional, these 10 key tips can give you an idea of when to worry about your or a loved one’s memory lapses.

Assisted Living can often be an excellent fit for someone with mild or moderate dementia. Questions about Assisted Living versus Memory Care, or about senior living options in general? Reach out – we’re here to help!

Melrose Meadows is a retirement community in Iowa City, IA, offering Independent and Assisted Living for seniors. Call us at 319-341-7893 for more information!

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