How can I distinguish between normal aging memory loss and dementia?

Do you sometimes misplace your keys or eyeglasses? Forget someone’s name momentarily? Occasionally have to search for a word or phrase that is on the “tip of your tongue”? As we age, slight changes in our intellect begin to occur. Simple forgetfulness, or “senior moments,” like forgetting where the keys are or a delay in recalling a name, date or event are all a part of the aging process. We see a modest decline in spontaneous word finding (may take longer to get words out) and our ability to multi-task slows down. Additionally, learning something new and being able to recall it takes longer as we grow older. Memory has various forms that may be affected differently by aging.

However, if a person frequently misplaces keys and begins not to know the name of those objects; or forgets names and places (without recall); or has great difficulty in using the right words; or becomes lost in familiar surroundings, then that would indicate a cause for concern. In other words, when memory loss prevents an individual from performing daily tasks and accustomed roles in life, it may be time for further evaluation by a physician.

More than 50 conditions can cause or mimic the symptoms of dementia, and symptoms usually subside when the underlying problem is treated, such as a thyroid condition or a B12 vitamin deficiency. Additionally, certain drugs can cause dementia-like signs. These include antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-Parkinson drugs, anti-anxiety medications, cardiovascular drugs, anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, narcotics and sedatives.

Have an open discussion with your physician about your concerns and undergo a complete evaluation before coming to any personal conclusions. Though memory deficits occur in the normal aging process, it is important to keep your brain healthy and active by being socially engaged, remaining physically active, adopting a healthy diet and participating in games and activities that are mentally stimulating.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.