Dementia 101: Dementia for Beginners
Dementia is NOT a normal part of aging, the sooner you can work toward a diagnosis and plan the more empowered you and your loved one will be.
There’s a common myth that with age comes dementia. Knowing the truth about memory loss, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and dementia will help you navigate memory changes in your older loved one.
What is memory loss?
Normal age-related memory loss doesn’t prevent you from living a productive and independent life. As we age, it’s normal to forget a person’s name, but recall it later in the day. You might misplace your glasses, then realize you’re wearing them. Or maybe you need to make lists more often than in the past to remember appointments or tasks.
These changes in memory are generally manageable and don’t disrupt your ability to work, live independently or maintain a social life.
Memory loss is not the only change that happens in the brain as we age, there are some positive changes too, Recent research out of Trinity College Dublin found that older adults tended to find it easier to focus, were less anxious, and were in better control of their brains. (reference: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210210133327.htm)
What is mild cognitive impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition affecting the brain defined by problems with memory, speech, or decision-making. The symptoms of MCI are not as severe as other major neurocognitive disorders, like dementia disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, etc).
Dementia disorders tend to result in declines in functioning over time, whereas MCI results in “ineffeciencies” in daily life tasks. For example: Tasks may take you longer to complete, though you will likely still be able to complete them.
Having MCI does not mean that you will develop dementia, though it does mean that your risk for dementia may be higher. MCI is described as the stage between typical changes with the brain as we age and dementia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the group associated with uncovering MCI, around 10% to 15% of individuals with MCI go on to develop dementia each year.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an “umbrella” term used to describe brain conditions called neuro-degenerative disorders. There are several types of dementia disorders.
What’s the Difference Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia?
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia accounting for 60-80% of all dementia disorders. Then, there’s Vascular Dementia (15-25% of all dementia disorders), Lewy Body Dementia (5-10% of all dementia disorders), Frontal-Temporal Dementia (approx 5% ), and many other types.
It’s important to know that a person can have more than one type of dementia disorder at the same time, most commonly a combination of Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Dementia.
Sadly, there is no cure for dementia. It is an illness in the brain that worsens over time. It commonly starts with memory loss and ends with severe functional decline.
The 10 Early Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Here’s a checklist of the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease:
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges with planning or problem solving
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home or work
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- Misplacing things AND losing the ability to retrace steps to find it.
- New problems with words or speaking
- Decreased or poor judgment
- Withdrawal from work or social activities
- Changes in mood or personality
If you checked 2 or more of these symptoms or are concerned about your loved one’s memory and wellbeing, it’s important to seek professional help to uncover what is causing these symptoms. Start by getting your loved one to their primary care provider to rule out any medical causes for memory changes. Download this free memory loss workbook to fill out and take with you to the doctor.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Diagnosing dementia early in the course of illness benefits the person living with dementia and their family.
Source: Rasmussen & Langerman (2019)
Worried About Memory Loss? Next Steps
When you have concerns about your older loved one’s memory, language, how they are problem solving, etc, that are causing problems in their life or concerning you, it’s important to take these changes seriously and to help your loved one seek a medical evaluation.
Sometimes these changes are not related to dementia at all, but to a medical problem that may need to be treated. Other times, these changes may be related to dementia. The sooner you can work toward a diagnosis and a plan, the more empowered you and your loved one will be in living a life with dementia!
Or, if you’re ready we can help you find a professional to evaluate for a dementia disorder, called a Neuropsychologist. Or, if you need ongoing care and support with a loved one living with dementia, we can also help you find a therapist or psychiatrist. Simply click here to get started