Memory Loss vs Dementia
If you have an elderly loved one, you might notice them becoming increasingly forgetful. Memory loss vs dementia, how to tell the difference? The truth is, memory loss is a part of normal aging — older individuals typically experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impact cognitive abilities. However, memory loss becomes a problem when it starts to impact daily life.
To ensure your loved one is getting the care they need, it’s important to recognize the difference between normal, age-related forgetfulness and more serious memory issues (such as dementia). Here’s a closer look at the different types of memory loss and the signs to look out for.
Memory Loss Risk Factors
Before we break down the different kinds of memory loss, it’s helpful to go over risk factors. The biggest risk factor is age — all older adults are at risk of developing memory issues (including dementia). Other factors include:
- Head trauma
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Down syndrome
While meeting one or more of these conditions doesn’t mean someone is guaranteed to get dementia, it does indicate they’re at a higher risk (and thus, should be watched more carefully as they age).
Types of Memory Loss
Memory loss can be broken down into the following categories.
1. Age-Related Memory Loss
Age-related memory impairment is a normal part of aging that involves minor forgetfulness. A senior with this level of memory loss might fail to remember certain details, but it doesn’t impact their day-to-day life or overall well-being. Common symptoms include:
- Misplacing items (such as keys)
- Forgetting small details (like names and passwords)
- Taking more time to remember things from the past
Memory problems at this stage are usually small — for example, a senior might forget the name of an old friend from high school, but they won’t forget the names of their loved ones.
How to Recognize Age-Related Memory Loss
A senior is probably experiencing age-related memory impairment if they meet the following conditions:
- The memory problems don’t negatively impact their daily life.
- They can remember/learn new things.
- They don’t have any underlying medical conditions.
Ultimately, this stage of memory loss is considered normal forgetfulness and is generally not a cause for concern. However, it’s advisable to keep an eye out to ensure the forgetfulness doesn’t worsen.
2. Mild Cognitive Impairment
Mild cognitive decline is a level of memory loss that falls in between age-related memory impairment and dementia. Older adults at this stage might forget things fairly frequently, but it usually doesn’t interfere with their ability to perform daily tasks. They may also experience confusion or difficulty speaking. Common symptoms include:
- Forgetting things in their current life (such as appointments or recent events)
- Lower attention span
- Language issues (like forgetting certain words)
Someone with mild cognitive decline will still be able to complete daily tasks, such as cooking, shopping and cleaning. However, they might take longer than normal to do things due to disorientation.
How to Recognize Mild Cognitive Impairment
If you’re trying to determine whether a senior is at this stage of memory loss, check if they meet the following conditions:
- The memory difficulties don’t largely impact their day-to-day life.
- They can still communicate normally.
- They don’t have any underlying diseases.
The best way to achieve a diagnosis is by speaking to a doctor. After asking questions and conducting a few tests on the senior’s mental abilities, a doctor should be able to determine the extent of memory loss.
Dementia is a syndrome characterized by mental deterioration that affects day-to-day life. Typically found in adults over the age of 65, it extends beyond regular forgetfulness — seniors with dementia may experience communication issues, poor judgment and serious disorientation. Common symptoms include:
- Wandering/getting lost
- Losing track of time
- Mood changes (such as increased irritability)
- Forgetting important details (such as names of loved ones)
In the early stages, it can be hard to recognize the syndrome. However, as dementia progresses, cognitive function decreases severely, making it more noticeable.
Types of Dementia
Dementia is a group of conditions that can be caused by the following:
- Alzheimer’s disease (caused by dying brain cells)
- Vascular dementia (caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain’s nerve cells)
- Lewy body dementia (caused by protein deposits in the nerve cells)
- Frontotemporal dementia (caused by decreased function in frontal and temporal lobes)
- Mixed dementia (term for multiple types of dementia)
The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s — according to the Alzheimer’s Association, over six million Americans struggle with the disease.
How to Recognize Dementia
A senior may have dementia if their memory loss is so severe they experience the following:
- They can’t fulfill their daily obligations.
- They struggle to learn/remember new things.
- They can’t be safely left alone.
If you suspect a loved one has dementia, it’s best to speak to a doctor and reach an official diagnosis.
How to Address Memory Loss
While minor forms of memory loss are generally not a cause for concern, more severe types should be addressed immediately. If you ignore the problem, you risk your senior loved one accidentally harming themselves or others. To address memory loss, start by talking to your doctor and seeing if there’s any treatment available.
Some types of dementia (such as vascular dementia) can be treated with medication. Others, however, don’t have any treatments (like Alzheimer’s). In these cases, it’s best to turn to the help of a professional memory care home, such as Cedar Creek Memory Care.
Contact Cedar Creek Memory Care for Dementia Patients
Watching a loved one go through dementia or memory loss isn’t easy. However, you don’t have to go through it alone. At Cedar Creek Memory Care, we provide a safe, comfortable atmosphere for older adults experiencing memory issues. In addition to a cozy environment, we offer skilled caregivers, memory stimulation exercises, nutritious meals and memory activities. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to contact us online or call us at (301) 384-4017.