Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

Normal Aging or Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

When a spouse or adult child begins to notice differences in a loved one, it can lead them to wonder and worry about what is wrong. Family members might question whether these changes are a normal part of the aging process or red flags for something more serious. This is especially true for symptoms commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, such as forgetfulness and confusion.

While memory issues are classic signs of dementia, there are other health issues that can mimic these diseases. If you find yourself concerned about what is really causing the changes in your loved one, it may be helpful to learn more about the early symptoms of dementia and other medical conditions that should also be considered.

Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the early warning signs of dementia can include the following:

  • Forgetfulness that interferes with daily life
  • Difficulty maintaining a conversation
  • Getting lost going to and from familiar places
  • Misplacing items (e.g., keys or wallet) in the home
  • Struggling to complete familiar tasks
  • Falling victim to identity theft or fraud
  • Trouble concentrating, especially while reading or writing
  • Inability to stay oriented to day and time
  • Making mistakes with personal finances
  • Change in personality or disposition
  • Becoming suspicious or paranoid of family
  • Withdrawing from a religious organization or favorite pastimes
  • Loss of or diminished problem-solving or planning skills
  • Forgetting appointments or important events

While these symptoms may be caused by dementia, they may also be the result of another health condition. In some circumstances, it’s a medical issue that can be treated and reversed.

Health Problems That Mimic Dementia

When you detect changes in a loved one, it’s usually a good idea to begin documenting them. That will help you detect patterns that might aid their doctor in making a diagnosis. Their primary care physician will likely conduct a physical exam and order blood work to rule out other health conditions that have symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

A few medical issues that can look like dementia are:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Undiagnosed infection
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Medication side effect or adverse reaction
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

If the senior’s physician rules out the above medical conditions, the next step may be to refer them to a neurologist for additional testing. Because there isn’t a definitive screening for Alzheimer’s disease, most neurologists have their own diagnostic protocols. They usually include brain imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an MRI or a PET scan. Some physicians will also order a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, to analyze the senior’s cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Learn More About Alzheimer’s Care

While hearing a loved one’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia can be difficult, it’s important to know there are steps you can take to help them live their best quality of life. One of these is moving to a memory care community. These specialized communities have caregivers with training and experience in supporting seniors with dementia, as well as dedicated services ranging from life-enrichment programs to dining services and safety measures.

When you’re trying to decide whether a memory care community is right for your loved one, it’s important to schedule a personal visit to learn more. Visit our website to find a location near you.

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Disclaimer: The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any message and will not be held responsible for the content of any message. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice.

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