Understanding Dementia: Is It Forgetfulness or Something More Serious?
By Mary Bates, MS, CT, Certified Dementia Practitioner
As we age, some individuals may become more forgetful, and it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that something like forgetting someone’s name is the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Other problems can also cause memory problems including medical conditions, emotional problems like depression, mild cognitive impairment and other dementias.
Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. With changes in the body and the brain, it’s not unusual to take longer to learn new information or occasionally forget where you’ve left your glasses.
How is it possible to determine if memory problems are just mild forgetfulness or something more serious like Alzheimer’s disease?
To understand what is typical and what is not, the National Institute on Aging offers these distinctions:
During normal aging, the individual sometimes:
- Makes bad decisions once in awhile
- Misses a monthly payment occasionally
- Forgets what day it is, but remember it later
- Sometimes forgets what word to use
- Loses things from time to time
With Alzheimer’s disease, the person may:
- Make poor judgments and decisions much of the time
- Have problems taking care of monthly bills
- Lose track of the date and time of year
- Have trouble having a conversation
- Often misplace things and be unable to find them
Serious memory and cognitive problems go beyond occasionally forgetting things. Individuals lose the ability to think clearly and learn. They may have problems with language skills, paying attention, and visual perception. Signs of serious memory loss could include:
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Asking the same question over and over again
- Having difficulty following recipes or directions
- Becoming more and more confused about time, people and places
- Not taking care of yourself, such as eating poorly, not bathing and acting unsafely
The bottom line: It’s not unusual for some forgetfulness to come with age. However, if you have changes in memory or thinking that concern you, speak with your doctor. He or she will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine what may be causing your symptoms.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column.