Is it dementia or normal aging?

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It’s quite common to become a bit more forgetful as you get older, it tends to take a while to remember things and you often become more distracted. Our physical health isn’t usually at its best either, meaning daily tasks become increasingly difficult, and we may require some help in completing them.

However, if a person’s memory is much worse and impacts their day-to-day life or becomes more concerning, it may be early signs of dementia.

What is dementia?

Dementia is the term used to describe a set of symptoms that affect the ability to remember. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease. Around 500,000 people in the UK have Alzheimer’s disease, with the second most common type being vascular dementia, which totals up to 20% of dementia cases.

There are a few signs to look out for and useful dementia care statistics that can help.These symptoms are the way to recognise the difference between typical old age forgetfulness or whether they could be early signs of dementia and if you should arrange an examination.

The difference between dementia and old age

It is normal to sometimes forget other people’s names or appointments but remember them later. However, instances of memory loss become more concerning if the person forgets the names of close friends and family. They may also forget recent events such as visitors, places they have been to or what activities they did and can also include misplacing items and putting things in unusual places. 

People with early dementia may also have frequent problems with speech, trouble joining conversations and struggling to follow the thread of what someone is saying.

Becoming more forgetful in old age is usually quite common. But if the person with dementia forgets the things they would usually remember, and you start to feel worried, it is worth speaking to a doctor and looking into help from dementia care specialists.

The most common signs of dementia

These are the most common signs of dementia and are things to look out for:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily living

One of the most common symptoms of any dementia is memory loss, particularly in the early stages. Concerning memory loss includes regularly forgetting new information, dates, or events and repeatedly asking for information and reminders.

  1. Changings in behaviour

Changes in behaviour or personality is another sign of the early stages of dementia. People with dementia can often seem more confused, irritated, depressed or anxious. They can often appear more upset at home or with people they are most comfortable with, which can seem out of character.

  1. Losing items and unable to retrace steps

Losing or misplacing things is a common symptom of most types of dementia. If you notice yourself or a loved one frequently misplacing or losing things – along with any of the other symptoms, it may be an early sign of dementia.

  1. Confusion with time or place

You may often find that people with early-stage dementia will be confused about what day or year it is. Date confusion is common with vascular dementia, although you can also find it in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. Difficulty doing daily tasks

People with dementia often find it hard to complete their usual daily tasks and sometimes have trouble driving to familiar areas.

  1. Challenges with planning and decision making

You may find that people with dementia struggle to make decisions or solve problems. They have trouble following a simple or familiar recipe or keeping track of monthly bills and find it hard to concentrate. 

Although making mistakes is common, if it happens frequently and occurs when doing familiar tasks, it would be worth speaking to a doctor.

  1. Problems with speaking and writing

People with dementia tend to have problems with speaking and writing. This is usually affected with old age, but those with dementia such as Alzheimer’s may struggle to join a conversation or repeat themselves frequently.

  1. Withdrawn from social activities

You may find that during the early stages of dementia, the person with dementia becomes withdrawn and is less likely to contribute to social activities. If acting this way is out of character for them, you should ask how they’re feeling and try and understand if they’re experiencing any other side effects related to dementia. Read our guide to dementia care.

What to do if you suspect dementia

If you are noticing signs of dementia in someone you know, you may want to consider visiting a doctor to help with an assessment. The doctor will be able to diagnose your loved one and offer the right treatment. Although there isn’t a cure for dementia, there is medication and therapy available to help relieve some of the symptoms and improve the individual’s quality of life.