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Alzheimer’s Or Just Aging?

Can you tell the difference between normal signs of aging and a more serious problem like Alzheimer’s disease?

Many of us exhibit what could be interpreted as signs of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia—misplacing our glasses, struggling to remember the name of an acquaintance, or forgetting the date. When these behaviors appear in an older adult, many are quick to conclude that the person must have a memory disorder.

“We have to ask ourselves, though, whether this is a change in behavior for this person,” says Dr. Gregory Jicha of the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. “If they have always been prone to misplacing things or forgetting names, it may not be cause for worry. However, if this represents a change from how they have acted their entire life, it’s time to take action.”

It’s easy to miss genuine signs of dementia. An older adult may impress family members by recalling, in detail, events from childhood. But a sharp memory for long-ago events often goes hand-in-hand with an inability to create new memories.

The most important thing, Jicha says, is to seek help if you suspect a cognitive disorder. Dementia places people at risk on a daily basis.

“We wouldn’t avoid doing something about chest pain until the person has a massive heart attack,” Jicha says. “So don’t wait until someone’s life is falling apart to recognize that they have a memory problem and seek help. There are treatments available to improve their quality of life.”

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