As your loved one ages, it's common to notice some changes in memory and cognitive function; perhaps they struggle to recall the name of a grandchild or miss an eye appointment. But how do you know whether these changes are part of the normal aging process or an indication of something more serious, like Alzheimer's disease?
Here, our experts answer some of the most common questions they receive about the differences between aging and Alzheimer's disease.
Q: My mom seems to be getting more forgetful. Is this common or should I be concerned about Alzheimer's dementia?
A: Forgetfulness often increases with age and can be very normal. Forgetting an appointment, for example, is a sign of normal aging, while forgetting how to get to the clinic or back home afterward could be a warning signal of something more serious. If you notice your mom is struggling to remember the events of last week or yesterday, doesn't recognize close loved ones, or struggles with daily tasks like cooking or getting home from the store, seek guidance from her primary care provider. These can be signs of Alzheimer's.
Q: I'm the primary caregiver for my uncle, and lately his behavior has changed. He often says inappropriate things and sometimes becomes combative. Is this a normal part of aging?
A: When we see somebody, who is normally mild-mannered display combative and inappropriate behaviors, we worry that something more serious is going on. In some cases, the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s - but don't jump to conclusions. Sometimes the diagnosis is simply a urinary tract infection, which can cause behavior changes in older patients. Seeing a doctor is critical if you notice behavioral or personality changes in your loved one. Please note that caring for a loved with dementia can be very challenging, so be sure to care for yourself while you seek the treatment he needs.
Q: My dad has really withdrawn lately. He spends a lot of time alone and doesn't engage much when I stop by. Is this a sign of dementia?
A: Many aspects of aging can contribute to sadness, withdrawal, fatigue, and disengagement. Loss of a spouse, living alone, poor nutrition, and decline in health can all increase the risk of depression. However, the signs and symptoms of depression sometimes closely mimic the signs of Alzheimer's, so it's important to share your concerns with a doctor to ensure your dad receives the right treatment.
Q: It seems like my mom's physical health is declining all at once. Is it possible this is Alzheimer's disease?
A: While early and moderate dementia produce primarily mental and emotional changes, the body shuts down when disease reaches late stage. Symptoms of moderate to severe or late-stage dementia include incontinence, loss of speech, seizures, loss of muscle control, and difficulty swallowing, among others. However, most people progress through the disease over a long period of time, so it's unlikely that you would see physical decline first. What you describe could be caused by something else; schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to find out for sure.
To learn more about Alzheimer's disease or memory care services in the Reno area, visit our team at Stone Valley Retirement Living on Stone Valley Drive today. We're here to help you navigate these complex and challenging years.