You've noticed that your father seems to be getting more forgetful and often cannot recall something you told him during a conversation. You remember your grandmother and how she would get lost when she left her home of 50 years and later, how she stopped recognizing family members. You have seen the stories in the news and the statistics about dementia. You are worried about your father, but overall he seems to be doing fine. How do you know if this is normal memory loss or dementia? And does it matter?
As we age, we are more likely to forget things, whether it is someone’s name or why we walked into a room. This is age-related memory loss and a natural part of the aging process. Although it can be frustrating and upsetting to forget things, memory loss generally does not have a significant impact on our daily lives and activities. Eventually, we will remember that we walked into the room to get a book or that the person I just saw was named Sue, and if we don’t remember, we will continue going about our day and doing what we need to do.
On the other hand, if someone with dementia forgets why they walked into a room, their reaction may be very different and not appear appropriate to the situation. They could become agitated, angry, or create a reason why they are in the room, no matter how unlikely the reason. Unlike when we forget why we entered the room, this episode may interfere with their daily lives and they cannot just go back to what they were doing.
Dementia is a general term that describes loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities. There are approximately 400 types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s being the most common. Some symptoms of dementia may include getting lost in familiar locations, repeating questions, impulsive behavior, lack of interest in others, loss of interest in activities, using unusual words for familiar objects, and new difficulty in managing finances and other household tasks.
The first step in differentiating between memory loss and dementia is to speak with your loved one’s physician. Infections, medications and health conditions can cause forgetfulness or a change in behavior and can be treated, so it is important to rule these out as a cause of the change in memory. The physician can also perform tests and assessments to start to determine whether your loved one has dementia and can refer to a specialist such as a neurologist or neuropsychologist for further assessment.
Finding the cause of the change in memory and cognition is important because the sooner it is identified, the sooner treatment and preventative measures can be implemented. Although dementia cannot be cured, it can be slowed if diagnosed early. An early diagnosis will also assist you and your family plan for the future.
Whether it is age-related memory loss or dementia, Mellie is there to support you as you care for your loved one by providing a customized care plan, local resources and information. Learn how we can assist you.