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Does my mom or dad have Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

Does my mom or dad have Alzheimer’s or dementia?

If this idea is keeping you up at night, you might find yourself with more questions than answers.  If it’s not something you’ve ever dealt with before, it probably sounds like a very simple question.  In fact, that is not the case.  Diagnosing Alzheimer’s or dementia at an early stage is actually easier said than done.  If your loved one is beginning to show some signs of cognitive decline, you might be wondering how to tell the difference between common characteristics of old age and something more serious. 

What is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia?

If you’re only just beginning to research the subject, you might not be clear about the terminology.  The terms Alzheimer’s and dementia are often mistakenly used interchangeably.  In fact, dementia is a generic term that describes a wide range of symptoms, including memory loss, decreased reasoning and cognitive abilities, decline in communication skills, as well as accompanying changes in behavior.  Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, which is the most common cause of dementia.  There are several other types and causes of dementia, including Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and vascular dementia.  In general, dementia is caused by brain cell deterioration, which affects the brain’s ability to function properly.  Dementia is not a normal part of aging.    

Senility vs. Alzheimer’s/Dementia

The term “senile” has come to be considered somewhat offensive and politically incorrect in recent years.  Although the strict definition merely identifies something relating to old age or a decline in functioning related to old age, it was widely misused to describe people with dementia for many years.  Therefore, if your loved one is beginning to show some signs of cognitive decline, the appropriate question to ask is how to tell the difference between normal characteristics of old age and early symptoms of dementia. 

As we get older, most of us will take a little longer to remember things, misplace things more often, and struggle to speak or complete tasks as quickly as we did when we were younger.  Some level of mental and physical decline is a normal part of the aging process.  However, frequent or significant difficulty remembering things, becoming disoriented, or having trouble with everyday tasks such as using household appliances can be early symptoms of dementia.  Telling the difference between the two isn’t as easy as it sounds.  There is no simple test that you can use at home.  If you’re concerned that your loved one might have dementia, the best course of action is to take him or her in to see your family doctor or another doctor who specializes in senior care.  How do you know when it’s time to take that step?  Again, there is no steadfast guideline, but a good rule of thumb is if their symptoms are beginning to interfere with their everyday life, it is probably time to make an appointment with a doctor. 

Next month’s blog will entail a more detailed look at some of the early signs of dementia and some strategies to help you navigate this difficult time.  In the meantime, feel free to connect with one of our staff. Contact us here.   We’re here to help.

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