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The Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Typical Age-Related Memory Loss

October 16, 2018

Forgetfulness is often associated with getting older—and with good reason. The majority of seniors over 65 will experience what’s referred to as age-related memory loss. As we age the hippocampus, the region of the brain that handles the retrieval of memories, often deteriorates. The hormones and proteins that help to protect, repair and stimulate the formation of brain cells often decline. Additionally, decreased blood flow to the brain can impair cognitive abilities.

The good news is that in those with age-related memory loss, the brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age. This means seniors who maintain a healthy diet, live an active lifestyle, and partake in brain stimulating activities, can reduce overall cognitive decline as they age.

Unfortunately, in many cases, forgetfulness is more than just a sign of natural aging and instead a symptom of a more serious disease. Before we begin, let’s explore the basic definitions of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a generic term used to describe symptoms such as impaired memory and thinking. Symptoms of dementia can be brought on by several different diseases and health conditions. Depending on the cause, the cognitive decline associated with dementia could be temporary or reversible.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease is a specific type of dementia, accounting for 50-70% of all cases. Unlike certain causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is not reversible and we currently do not have a cure.

Common Signs of Age-Related Memory Loss

We all forget things from time to time. We walk into a room and forget why we came in there in the first place. We misplace everyday items like our keys. We might even momentarily have trouble recalling the name of a neighbor who moved away more than a year ago.

Many seniors with age-related memory loss often find themselves easily distracted when reading or engaging in conversation. They may occasionally forget to attend an appointment or pay a monthly bill. But, the most important aspect of age-related memory loss is that they are aware of their forgetfulness and still able to fully function in their day-to-day lives.

All of these are signs of normal age-related memory loss. However, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Certain conditions such as tumors, blood clots, thyroid, kidney or liver disorders can contribute to memory loss. As can consuming too much alcohol, medication side effects and consuming an unhealthy diet low in essential brain healthy vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12.

If you or your loved one is showing signs of age-related memory loss, be sure to speak with your doctor to rule out any underlying causes. It can also help put your mind at ease that your moments of forgetfulness are not the sign of something more serious.

Common Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

As previously mentioned, some memory loss is expected as we age. Unfortunately, there are many cases in which memory loss goes beyond what is considered normal aging. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 5.7 million Americans are living with some form of dementia. Nearly one in ten of those seniors living with dementia have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia is a syndrome, not a disease. Dementia is a group of symptoms that affects mental cognitive tasks such as memory and reasoning. Dementia is an umbrella term that Alzheimer’s disease can fall under. It can occur due to a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the most common early Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Short-term memory issues that affect daily life. The most common sign of the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are issues recalling new information such as dates, events, new family members and friends. These memory lapses happen on a regular basis and disrupt daily life.
  • Difficulty planning or solving simple problems. Many seniors in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease experience issues following directions, even familiar recipes, or keeping track of monthly bills. They may also have issues working with numbers.
  • Difficulty completing daily tasks. Alzheimer’s patients experience a steady decline in their ability to perform everyday tasks. This could include anything from getting lost driving to a once familiar location to forgetting how to use common household appliances.
  • Confusion about time or place. Those with Alzheimer’s often lose track of dates, years and even seasons, without being able to recall them later. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for those in the early stage of Alzheimer’s to forget where they are or how they got there.
  • Issues speaking or writing. Another common Alzheimer’s symptom includes issues holding a conversation or struggling to find the right word. Sufferers will often call things by the wrong name, using other words to describe an object instead of the name of the object itself.
  • Putting things in unusual places. It’s not uncommon for a senior in the early stages of this disease to do odd things like misplace their keys, only to find them in the back of the refrigerator later. Their misplacement of common items will become more frequent over time and may even lead them to be suspicious of others stealing from them.
  • Poor judgment and decision-making. Everyone makes a poor choice once in a while, but those with Alzheimer’s often experience a drastic change in judgment and decision-making.
  • Changes in mood and personality. One of the most upsetting signs is a change in a loved one’s mood or personality. With Alzheimer’s disease, seniors can become easily confused, paranoid, depressed, and easily agitated. They may also withdraw from social activities and family events.

If you notice these changes in a loved one, be sure to speak with a doctor right away. Again, early detection is key in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Join Episcopal SeniorLife Communities in the Fight to End Alzheimer’s!

Episcopal SeniorLife Communities is committed to supporting the friends and family of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Join us in the fight to find a cure by supporting our team in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s™, the nation’s largest event for raising awareness and funds to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

Every 65 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with this terrible disease. Help us find a cure. Click here to make a donation or to join the Episcopal SeniorLife Communities team!

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