mental health

Healthy Living: Dementia vs. Age-Related Changes

Millions of Gen-X Americans are finding themselves part of the “sandwich generation” as they care for their older parents, forcing them to be mindful of age-related health issues.

There are normal age-related changes that occur to the mind and body, but there are also signs of memory loss that may represent early signs of an underlying dementia disorder. 

Dementia refers to a change in memory, language, problem-solving skills, or other cognitive function that represents a decline from a person’s baseline and has started to impact their daily life. Dementia symptoms can also impact someone’s mood and behavior.

If you or a loved one display any of these warning signs, seeing a primary care physician or specialist such as a neurologist can help determine the underlying cause of these cognitive changes. As part of the evaluation, they should be checked for signs of depression, thyroid disease, or vitamin deficiencies that can mimic signs of dementia. In addition, a person’s medication list should be checked for potential side effects. Here are some early warning signs of potential dementia worthy of further evaluation:

  • Memory changes that impact day-to-day abilities. While anyone can occasionally forget an appointment or someone’s name, those can come back to them after a short delay. Someone with memory loss will forget things more often, or even not recall information with prompting.
  • Experiencing challenges in problem-solving. It may take longer to complete a routine task. 
  • Difficulty in completing familiar tasks. 
  • Confusion with keeping track of dates and timing of events. They may not recognize where they are or recall how they got there.
  • Becoming more withdrawn or isolated. The individual is not as interested in their usual hobbies or social activities.
  • Forgetting simple words or using the wrong name. They may have difficulty following a conversation and answering questions appropriately, or experience changes in reading and writing.
  • Exhibiting signs of poor judgment. They have difficulty making decisions, such as a change in grooming and personal hygiene.
  • Difficulty in understanding visual or spatial patterns. This can lead to difficulty in reading and balance. This can also impact a person’s driving capabilities. 
  • Changes in mood and behavior can occur early in the disease or as the disease progresses over time. People can show signs of anxiety, and depression, or can become easily upset. Some can even become suspicious or fearful.
  • Misplacing items and having difficulty finding them again. They may also place items in unusual locations. When the item cannot be found, a person may accuse others.

About the Author: Dr. Anjali Patel is a fellowship-trained cognitive neurologist at the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute at Overlook Medical Center. Board-certified in psychiatry and neurology, she provides adult inpatient and outpatient general neurological care. She is also a member of the Atlantic Medical Group Memory and Cognitive Disorders Center.

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