Is it normal aging or dementia?

Many older adults worry about the subtle changes taking place in their memory recall as they age.  Memory processing in older adults does slow with aging.  There may be increased difficulty concentrating or focusing with distractions and less efficient processing or storage of new information.  Multi-tasking will be more difficult.  Many older adults have experienced difficulty with recall of names, places or events.  Just as other parts of the body are slowing down, so does the brain.  It doesn’t mean that the older adult loses the information being recalled, just that it takes longer to retrieve.

Dementia impairs an individual’s ability to handle normal daily activities and social relationships.  Family members may notice a lack of awareness that their loved one has forgotten something. Older adults may forget recently learned information or experience personality changes; they may have difficulty performing familiar tasks or become easily disoriented. Judgment becomes impaired. Loved ones may notice a loss of initiative. Depression and head injury can be predictive of Alzheimer’s disease. There are over 60 different types of dementia, the largest percentage being Alzheimer’s disease.

There can be many reasons for dementia that have nothing to do with a permanent condition.  Certain medications or medication interactions can bring on cognitive confusion.  Urinary tract infections often cause dementia or delirium and sleep apnea.    Medical professionals will test to eliminate a possible disease condition that could mimic dementia. If dementia is suspected, it is critical to be tested as soon as possible so that the condition can be treated or reversed.  With Alzheimer’s disease, the sooner the treatment, the longer an individual stays in the mild impairment category.

What can individuals do to protect their brain capacity?  The brain uses 25% of the oxygen in the body.  Therefore, exercise will increase the oxygen available to the brain. Good nutrition is also important in maintaining healthy brain functioning.  Keeping the brain active is critical.  Reading stimulates many different areas of the brain; creative activities, learning new skills and participating in word games are effective ways of exercising the brain.

The Alzheimer’s Association is a great source of information and support for persons with different types of dementia.  They can be contacted by calling 314-432-3422.  Their hotline is available 24/7 by calling 800-980-9080.  For other supportive resources, check http://www.alzstlorg.

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