Normal Aging vs. Dementia

Can’t remember the name of a friend from high school or from a former job? Forgot the author of a book you once loved? This is considered just a part of the normal aging process. In fact, scientists now suggest that memory lapses begin as early as age 45 and is even a part of healthy aging. However, it’s important to know when memory loss surpasses the point of “normal” and becomes a safety concern. This blog will help you identify signs of dementia outside the normal aging process so you’ll know the difference between normal aging vs. dementia and when to consider “future care.”

What Is Normal Aging?

The normal aging process includes many physical changes, which begin as soon as we are born. As the brain ages, a person processes information more slowly or may have difficulty multitasking. It’s normal to experience some memory impairment with age, but if a person can eventually come to the conclusion they’re looking for, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If they retain their visuospatial ability (the ability to estimate the distance between two objects), social skills and ability to carry out activities of daily living (ADLs) normally, then they probably aren’t experiencing dementia.

What Does Dementia Look Like?

When confusion and memory impairment begin to interfere with a person’s ability to carry out ADLs normally and safely, that’s when you have cause for concern. These are some potential signs of dementia:

  • Decline in the ability to function as before
  • Decreased ability to work or perform ADLs
  • Abnormal difficulty acquiring and retaining new information
  • Abnormally poor decision-making or lack of judgment
  • Decreased logic or ability to reason
  • Decreased ability to handle complex tasks; easily overwhelmed by new and complex tasks
  • Impaired visuospatial ability
  • Impaired language functioning ability (beyond occasionally not being able to recall a word)
  • Significant change in personality or disposition
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Nonsensical statements or questions
  • Changes in hygiene, diet or regular habits
  • Uncharacteristically odd or inappropriate behaviors

These symptoms can indicate dementia, which refers to a category of diseases that cause memory loss and deterioration in other mental functions. Dementia occurs due to physical changes in the brain and is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. For some people, dementia progresses rapidly, while it takes years to reach an advanced stage for others. The progression of dementia depends greatly on the underlying cause of the dementia. Dementia can be genetic, but lifestyle and environment can play a part in eventual memory impairment too—and this is why so many organizations recommend ways to improve your overall cognitive health.

senior couple reviews records and smiles

How do I plan for any possibility?

According to the National Institute on Aging, there are several ways to improve your brain health and memory. You may have even heard of them before:

  1. Take Care of Your Physical Health
  2. Eat Healthy Foods
  3. Be Physically Active
  4. Keep Your Mind Active
  5. Stay Connected
  6. Reduce Risks to Cognitive Health (such as protecting yourself from head injuries)

Even if a person does everything possible to ensure healthy aging—we can’t always predict who will experience memory loss outside of normal boundaries. But what we can do is plan now for future care. If you are considering a continuing care community—then you are most likely already a planner—and looking at all the possibilities. So you may already know that right now is the perfect time to begin a discussion with your family and health care providers—before you experience a shift in your health. Make a plan for your future care, whether that includes a life care contract or long term disability insurance or “care at home.” Keep in mind potential health care needs and possible memory care support as you plan. And then get it in writing! Having a plan in mind is not only reassurance for you but peace of mind for your loved ones. Letting your circle know your desires long before it’s necessary also ensures that your wishes are followed in any situation.

Aging is inevitable, but you can prepare today. If the idea of planning future care feels overwhelming, let us help you. Contact us here so a Residency Planning Associate can get you started.