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Normal Aging Versus Dementia: How to Tell the Difference

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16

The physical truths of aging are a fact. The Bible even repeatedly acknowledges some of those issues while offering comfort that Christ is working within every believer to renew them in spiritual ways.

But physical aging doesn't mean the best days are behind you or that you have to give up an active lifestyle. In fact, many people choose to live in senior living and assisted living communities because they want to safeguard that active lifestyle. The types of communities under the Bethesda Senior Living Communities umbrella offer the ability to live a vibrant lifestyle in comfortable, safe surroundings. 

Some of our communities offer memory care service levels that might be right for seniors who are entering certain stages of dementia. But many times, seniors or their loved ones aren't sure whether they should be worried about dementia or not. Where does the line lay between the natural aging process, which can lead to some memory lapses or reduced focus or concentration, and dementia or other conditions?

If you're concerned about dementia, Alzheimer's or other memory issues, it's typically best to consult with a physician. Your doctor can help you understand whether you're dealing with natural aging processes or something more concerning — and offer helpful suggestions in either case. But we've also provided some tips for understanding the difference between dementia and natural aging below.

Dementia Is Not Part of the Natural Aging Process

Age does cause changes in the brain, and those can lead to occasional issues with recall, focus or other cognitive functions. While annoying and somewhat inconvenient, those natural age-related issues don't typically impede an older adult's ability to function in daily life to a significant degree. They're also the same kind of issues you can experience at any age, such as a temporary block when trying to recall a word, name or fact that you're certain you know. It's simply that as the brain ages, these types of issues can occur more frequently.

But dementia, Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases cause unnatural changes in the brain. These are not changes that are related to normal aging process, which is one reason that the cognitive decline associated with them tends to move faster and farther.

3 Potential Signs of Dementia

Again, you should always speak to a medical provider if you are struggling with memory loss or other cognitive issues. Even if you think it's a normal part of aging, it doesn't hurt to bring it up to your GP at your next appointment for reassurance or a professional option. 

Here are some potential signs that you might be dealing with something more than normal aging.

1. Memory Changes Occur Rapidly

According to the Alzheimer's Society of Canada, most adults will not experience rapid memory loss, even as they age. Around 40% of people do experience some memory issues after they turn 65, but these are gradual and don't tend to disrupt life to a great deal. They certainly don't reduce someone's ability to function in social situations, take care of themselves and even be involved in part-time work or volunteer activities.

However, if you're dealing with dementia, memory changes might occur more rapidly. If you notice that you're forgetting many things on a daily basis, you might want to talk to a doctor.  

2. Your Memory Issues Are Severe

Someone with natural memory loss due to the aging process may forget a few appointments here and there, have trouble recalling the name of a new acquaintance or be annoyed occasionally by a lack of recall.

Someone with dementia, however, may not be able to remember any appointments. At later stages, they may not even remember to attend to daily necessities such as eating. They might be unable to recall the names of close family or friends and be angered or frustrated by their memory issues.

3. You Struggle to Create New Memories or Learn New Things

An older brain might be slower to learn new things, but a healthy senior brain is still capable of acquiring new memories and information. If you take a class online, for example, you might not recall everything the professor said. But, like any student, you'll remember some of the lessons and may be able to increase how much you learn by practicing new skills or knowledge regularly.

Someone with dementia might be unable to make new memories. The part of the brain that records and recalls newer information doesn't work well anymore, so what it takes in doesn't always "stick." This isn't the case with all individuals who have dementia, but it is a problem that can worsen as dementia progresses.

Care Levels to Support All Seniors

The communities under the Bethesda Senior Living Communities umbrella offer a wide range of care levels to support residents of all backgrounds and mobility levels. Some of our locations also provide memory care services, offering an option for families who have a loved one struggling with dementia. Residents in our memory care level of service can still live active, social lifestyles while getting the support they need for whatever level of cognitive issues they might be facing.

Posted on
Monday, December 7, 2020
by
Bethesda Senior Living
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