Is it dementia or old age?

Many of us have our “moments” where we find ourselves walking into a room and forgetting what we were about to do there or have left our keys dangling in the lock of the front door. But how do you know if it’s just plain old forgetfulness and normal ageing or the first signs of a more serious condition such as dementia?

Thankfully, the occasional memory lapse is often quite a normal part of getting on in years and, in isolation, is not a definitive early warning sign for dementia. Having said that, it is definitely worth keeping an eye on things to see if some of the other tell-tale signs of dementia start occurring. If two or more symptoms begin to emerge, then it may be time to get a professional assessment.

What is dementia?
Dementia is not a disease in itself but is an umbrella term used when a combination of certain deficiencies in memory, communication and thinking are present. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, but it can also result from an injury, stroke, or other diseases.

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Dementia symptoms
Lapses in memory may be the most widely recognised symptom, but difficulties with language, communication, concentration and ability to think through even basic everyday tasks can sometimes provide a more obvious indication that dementia may be approaching. 

Short term memory will often occur first, and it’s not unusual for a person to be able to recall an event 40 years ago, but be unable to recall what they just did half an hour ago. Again, this is not definitive on its own, but if it becomes progressively worse or other symptoms appear then it may indicate onset of dementia.

A reduced ability to communicate is one of the more disconcerting symptoms. The person may not be able to verbalise their thoughts coherently or may start repeating conversations or questions. They may also start to forget the meanings of words or struggle with comprehending and interacting in a conversation. This can be a frustrating for both the sufferer and the people around them.

One of the more startling symptoms for someone who knows the potential dementia sufferer quite well is a change in character and personality. Sufferers may become unusually moody, disengaged, frustrated and, in some cases, depressed. 

Everyday tasks become hurdles
Other behaviours that may indicate dementia relate to the clarity of thought and ability to cope with routine tasks such as working with figures, catching the right train or operating. This can also manifest in an inability to follow simple instructions or learning to do a new task.

Even their sense of direction may be affected. Streets, buildings and places that were once familiar may now seem foreign and a trip to the local shopping centre can become a totally unrecognisable experience.

How to help
A dementia diagnosis is not usually straightforward. There can be quite a number of psychological and physical tests needed for it to be definitive. If you are concerned about yourself or someone close to you, the important first step is to see your GP, who will normally refer to neurological psychological specialists for detailed assessment. 

For further reading, Alzheimer’s Australia provides a fantastic range of resources and information. Also, see the article Dealing with Dementia

Brain training apps can potentially helps prevent the onset of dementia. Here are six apps to try on your iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet.

If you'd like to share any experiences you've had with dementia please leave a comment below. 

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