Memory lapses are a normal part of aging. In fact, losing one’s keys or forgetting the name of a familiar face is something that anybody can experience no matter their age. For older individuals, however, the occasional memory lapse can lead to anxiety about Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a debilitating and irreversible condition that makes it difficult to form basic tasks or to hold intelligible conversations.
This is a disease that is extremely difficult for both the sufferer and his or her family to experience as it means that even loved ones may become unrecognizable. However, just because you find yourself being a little more forgetful nowadays does not mean that you are experiencing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s look at what the differences are between normal memory lapses and Alzheimer’s disease.
Is the condition disabling?
Being forgetful is not a disabling condition. While having trouble remembering where you placed things or forgetting about an appointment you made are certainly frustrating, they do not prevent you from living your life independently. Furthermore, normal memory loss isn’t so much memory loss per se as it is being slower at recalling memories. If you are suffering from age-related forgetfulness, for example, and you forget about a dentist’s appointment then chances are you will recall having made that appointment if the dentist’s office calls you up asking where you are. Somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, will have no recollection of having ever made such an appointment.
Alzheimer’s is irreversible and disabling. It affects at least two intellectual abilities, like language, memory, logic, abstract thinking, and so on, and represents a deteriorating decline in those abilities. Other medical conditions may mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, so you will need to get a diagnosis from a trained doctor before jumping to any conclusions. If you have a loved one who is suffering from age-related memory problems that are beginning to interfere with their quality of life then getting them the right care, such as through a memory care home, can help them on what is otherwise an often difficult path.
Symptoms of age-related forgetfulness
Perhaps the best way of telling the difference between normal forgetfulness and dementia is by looking at the symptoms of each condition. As you age, your brain does not function as quickly as it used to. The hippocampus (the brain center for emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system.) for one, begins to deteriorate, which can make it harder to create and retrieve memories. A decline in hormones, protein, and blood flow to the brain also inhibit cognitive skills, which can lead to a feeling of memory loss.
However, if your memory loss is the result of normal forgetfulness then you have not actually lost your memories. Rather, they just take a little extra time to retrieve. You may have trouble remembering directions or street names, even for places that are familiar to you, but eventually, these names do come back to you. Furthermore, such forgetfulness does not make it impossible for you to live your day to day life. This is the key difference between age-related forgetfulness and dementia: forgetfulness is merely inconvenient whereas dementia makes it impossible to function normally.
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is an extremely debilitating condition, one which leads to the progressive deterioration of mental functions over time. The first signs of Alzheimer’s disease resemble normal forgetfulness in many ways. You may find yourself having trouble recalling things that were once familiar to you or you may start to become confused for no apparent reason. The difference is that with Alzheimer’s you do not simply wait and come back to “normal.” In fact, people with Alzheimer’s cannot recall instances where their memory loss caused them inconvenience.
Furthermore, somebody suffering from Alzheimer’s may find themselves lost in a place that they should know well, which can lead to wandering. Basic tasks become difficult to do, such as paying bills and cleaning. Alzheimer’s also affects language, leading to words being forgotten or garbled or the sufferer repeating a certain phrase multiple times in the same conversation. Finally, somebody suffering from dementia may behave in a way that would be considered socially inappropriate.
Memory loss can be a frightening thing, especially for those who are older in years or who have a family history of dementia. Signs of dementia need to be taken seriously and often the hardest step to take when such signs present themselves is getting medical help. If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s then you should also be aware that there are ways to help them through what is a difficult experience. Memory care homes, for example, provide the assistance that people suffering from age-related memory problems need in order to feel secure, comfortable, and independent.
Kate Howard writes about Alzheimer’s disease, spotting the early signs and how this affects family life short and long term.