7 Ways to tell if it’s normal aging or Alzheimer’s

 3d illustration of the human brain with alzheimer’s disease - dementia

7 Ways to tell if it’s normal aging or Alzheimer’s

Having a “senior moment” may initially be funny but have you ever become concerned if they are happening more frequently?  Could it be early signs of Alzheimer’s or is it simply normal aging?  Questioning whether your thoughts and actions may be indicating Alzheimer’s can be very unsettling.  However, with age, it is common for many of us to experience some form of memory loss without an underlying health cause.  Aging is a natural part of life but it can impact everyone differently. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are approximately 5.5 million people diagnosed with the disease.  This is about one in eight adults over the age of 65 (13 percent) who will be diagnosed with some form of dementia, a general decline in mental function.  Up to 46 percent of people over the age of 85 are estimated to fall into this category which could include Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and other forms. 

To help distinguish between what is considered standard or “normal” aging compared to signs of Alzheimer’s, here are seven characteristic differences between the two:

1.  Performing every day routine tasks become difficult

In normal aging, a person will be able to perform daily tasks independently whereas those showing signs of dementia will become more reliant on others for daily living activities.  In someone with Alzheimer’s, they may forget how to drive to a location they go to regularly or have trouble managing their budget, paying bills or cooking food.

2.  Unaware of any memory loss

 For people who are concerned with memory loss but it’s due to normal aging, they will complain in great detail regarding incidents of forgetfulness.  Someone with Alzheimer’s will only complain of memory lapses if specifically asked.  Otherwise, they will not be able to recall instances where memory loss was noticeable.

3.  Trouble recalling the right words

 It can be considered normal to have to pause when expressing what we want to say as we age.  We’ve all had moments of struggling to recall the name of someone we just met at a party or an acquaintance we haven’t seen for a while.  Recalling someone’s name or face may become more difficult but eventually can be easily prompted to recognize a name or face when helped.  Those with Alzheimer’s will have more trouble recalling people they see daily such as family members or engaging in conversation in which they may stop talking or begin repeating themselves.  They may also start calling familiar objects by the wrong name.

4.  Misplacing objects

Who hasn’t forgotten where they left their smartphone or car keys?  We all have done this.  Usually this is due to being distracted or trying to juggle too many things at once.  The difference is someone with normal aging can still identify their smartphone or keys and know what they are meant to be used for.

In someone struggling with Alzheimer’s, they can also lose objects but even if they find it, they may not be able to identify what it is or the purpose of it. A good example of this might be if a person with normal aging loses their glasses, they will search until they are found since they need them to see well.  A patient with Alzheimer’s who loses their glasses may not remember they even need glasses. 

5.  Balance and stability problems

Not only does Alzheimer’s affect the brain and memory, it also can impact a person physically.  The risk of falling is eight times more likely in someone with dementia than in people with normal aging.  Those with dementia tend to be more prone to falling which can sometimes be overlooked as a side effect of medications or the result of aging.

As a memory issues become more prevalent, the risk of injury due to falling along with a reduction in fine motor skills occur as Alzheimer’s progresses.  

6.  Ability to learn new things declines

Throughout life, we should be able to have the ability to learn new tasks. It could be learning how to operate new devices or a new language.  This should be accomplished by anyone aging normally.  However, for those with Alzheimer’s learning new tasks or of operating common appliances they once knew how to do, will become very difficult if not impossible. 

7.  Decline in social interaction

There are many elderly individuals who live life to the fullest engaging and enjoying social interactions with others.  Once dementia sets in, it is common for those with this disease to lose interest in social activities or if they do, they may exhibit inappropriate behaviors when around others. 

What to do if Alzheimer’s is suspected

Suspecting someone might have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s disease can be a heartbreaking thought to contend with.  But instead of waiting to see if it progresses, it is best to get them in to see a specialist as soon as possible.  The earlier they can get proper medical care the sooner you will know and how to proceed from there. 

Start with their family doctor voicing you concerns about the possibility. Their physician will want to do an assessment looking at other conditions that could be causing problems with cognition such as normal pressure hydrocephalus, a vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, or medication interactions, all of which can affect memory and judgement.  Getting an evaluation and diagnosis are important so that proper treatment can be provided. 

If Alzheimer’s disease is the diagnosis, ask for help on where to go from there.  There will need to be many decisions to be made regarding financial and legal aspects along with long-term care in the future.  Contact the Alzheimer’s Association for more information and support on helping your loved one with various resources that are available.