Understanding the Signs of Aging Versus Dementia Symptoms

As seniors age, their memories often fade and they are prone to forgetfulness. They may depend more on family and friends for help and they may have trouble remembering certain words. But how do caregivers know what behaviors are merely signs of aging and what indicates more serious conditions such as dementia? For caregivers and family members, this is a common question that frequently leads to worry, anxiety, and frustration. Determining the difference between signs of aging and a cognitive deficit can ensure your loved one receives proper medical treatment and that you can rest easier. 

What Behavior Distinguishes Normal Aging from Dementia?

Dementia is a general term used to describe a decline in mental ability and cognitive skills that interferes with daily life. Memory impairment is a common symptom of dementia. If you are unsure whether your senior or family member is exhibiting a form of dementia or normal aging, it’s important to pay close attention to his/her behaviors.

Differences between signs of aging and dementia include:

Signs of Aging

  • Complains about forgetting things, but able to provide considerable detail about incidents of forgetfulness                      
  • Able to remember important events and affairs
  • Forgets the right words to use occasionally
  • May have to pause momentarily to remember a correct direction or location, but eventually remembers
  • May be reluctant to operate new devices or learn new skills, but continues to operate familiar devices
  • May become moderately dependent on others for certain tasks or activities

Signs of Dementia

  • Complains of memory loss only when asked and unable to provide specific examples of forgetfulness
  • Notable decline in memory of recent events
  • Frequent word-finding trouble and hesitation
  • Becomes lost in familiar surroundings while walking or driving
  • Becomes unable to work familiar appliances; unable to learn or grasp simple concepts
  • Becomes critically dependent on others for basic living activities

Other signs of dementia include seniors losing interest in favorite activities and exhibiting socially inappropriate behaviors. Severe personality differences or changes in hygiene could also be red flags of a cognitive disorder. If you suspect your loved one is suffering from dementia, contact his/her doctor as soon as possible. The earlier they receive treatment, the better chance seniors have at slowing the progression of memory loss.

Knowing Aging and Dementia Differences Is Key

Becoming more forgetful is a normal part of growing older. But when natural memory loss crosses the line to a brain disorder, it’s essential that caregivers can spot the difference. Often seniors with dementia are unaware they have a medical condition. It takes a knowledgeable and watchful caretaker to pinpoint the problem and ensure seniors receive the medical treatment they need. Knowing the difference between signs of aging and dementia can protect your senior and provide caretakers with a better peace of mind.

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