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Normal Aging vs Early Signs of Dementia

As we get older, most of us will experience some decline in our cognitive abilities.  Becoming somewhat forgetful, for example, is a normal part of the aging process, but having pronounced difficulties with memory and other cognitive abilities could be symptoms of early stage dementia.  It isn’t always easy to distinguish between the two, especially since everyone is different.  An early symptom of dementia for one person could simply be a sign of old age for someone else.  It’s also important to remember that you should leave the task of diagnosing dementia to your doctor.  However, if you’re concerned about an elderly loved one, it might be helpful to keep in mind a few general guidelines that may help you determine if it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Difficulty Remembering People, Places, & Things

With regards to a person’s ability to remember things, it is highly dependent on the individual.  People of all ages sometimes have trouble remembering where they left things, for instance.  If you’re concerned about an older loved one’s memory, it’s important to look at the pattern of that individual’s particular memory skills over time rather than comparing them to yourself or someone else.  If you’re noticing a decline in your loved one’s ability to remember things, try to put it in perspective.  How frequent and severe is the forgetfulness?  For example, misplacing car keys or a cell phone occasionally might just be a sign of old age.  On the other hand, being unable to recall events of the previous day or completely forgetting the name or location of a store they frequent might be a sign of early stage dementia. 

Language Problems

Many elderly people will occasionally have difficulty thinking of the right words.  They may speak more slowly and pause more frequently.  Such changes in language skills are common and might simply be a sign of old age.  However, difficulty verbalizing thoughts on a regular basis or frequently referring to objects with generic terms like “that thing” might be a sign of something more serious.  If you’ve noticed a definite trend and speech challenges are becoming very obvious, such changes could be early symptoms of dementia.

Becoming Disoriented

We all forget the day of the week occasionally, but we can generally recall it after pausing for a moment and contemplating.  Likewise, we all get lost or turned around from time to time.  As people get older, this can happen more often.  On the other hand, getting lost in a familiar place or frequently losing track of the day, time of day, or season might be an early symptom of dementia.  If your loved one has shown a marked difference in this regard over the past few months or year, it is probably time to get him or her evaluated by a professional.

The foregoing is, by no means, a complete list of dementia symptoms.  There are several types of dementia and it can manifest in many different ways.  In general, if your loved one’s memory or other cognitive skills seem to have declined substantially in recent months, it is probably time to make an appointment with your family doctor.  Having your loved one see a doctor for an annual physical will help alleviate your concerns and ensure timely diagnosis of any problems.  As is the case with other medical conditions, getting dementia properly diagnosed sooner rather than later can make a big difference with regards to treatment options. 

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