Recognizing the Differences Between the Normal Effects of Aging and Dementia


We all forget things, especially if we are low on sleep or high on stress, but we start to worry when aging loved ones exhibit forgetfulness when life is good. Is it Alzheimer’s, we ask ourselves, or dementia? By becoming familiar with the varying forms and symptoms of dementia, we can understand the differences between normal and abnormal brain function in aging friends and loved ones.

What is Dementia?

A long time ago “senility” was a word used to describe the loss of mental capacity in the aged. Today, dementia is the term used to describe a host of symptoms that include the diminishing ability to remember, solve problems, or perform other cognitive tasks.

The following is a list of symptoms we may observe in the early stages of dementia:

  • A change in mood or levels of anger
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Trouble completing everyday tasks like housework or balancing the checkbook
  • Losing a sense of place
  • Inability to make sound decisions
  • Becoming suspicious or frightened without cause

If these early symptoms continue and are accompanied by worsening symptoms, it is important to make an appointment for a physical evaluation. These worsening symptoms might include:

  • Inability to carry out basic daily hygiene
  • Poor, disrupted, or flipped sleep cycles
  • Aggression or lewd behavior
  • Hallucinations

There are many possible causes for dementia. Strokes, thyroid conditions, and deposits of plaque or the presence of Lewy bodies can all cause the symptoms of dementia. Quick attention to symptoms can often lead to a rapid diagnosis and treatment, greatly reducing the severity of the impairment.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease makes up over 50% of all dementia cases. It is a progressive disease that slowly incapacitates the cognitive functioning of sufferers. It is a disease related to age and usually strikes after the age of 65. It is currently an incurable disease—most patients survive for about 10 years after they are diagnosed.

Like many progressive diseases, Alzheimer’s has many stages. Physicians will help friends and loved ones understand how to support the sufferer through each stage. Many outstanding support groups exist to aid families and friends and as well as the Alzheimer patient.

It is not uncommon for someone of advanced years to mislay keys or forget the right word.  By becoming familiar with the signs and symptoms of age-related brain diseases such as dementia we can recognize the difference between the normal effects of aging and brain disease. This knowledge will enable us to give the best of care to our loved ones.