Distinguishing between age-related memory loss and dementia

While a person’s intelligence will remain the same their entire lives, cognitive function can change as we age. Memory changes are also common with advanced age. Because age-related declines closely mimic the changes associated with dementia , it can be tricky to differentiate between the two. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s health or your own cognitive function, consider talking to a physician about the signs and symptoms. At West Hills Hospital our physicians and nurses provide a personalized model of high-quality care.

Understanding dementia
Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a disease, but rather an umbrella term for a group of symptoms with many possible causes. Alzheimer’s, a neurodegenerative disorder, is considered a disease with dementia as a symptom. These symptoms affect the following functions of the brain:

  • Learning
  • Recalling information
  • Understanding written language and spoken words
  • Using written language and speech
  • Judging where objects are

Dementia can also affect a person’s executive function. This refers to a person’s ability to:

  • Make plans
  • Solve problems
  • Focus on a task
  • Reason

Comparing symptoms of memory loss
Doctors generally assess a person’s cognitive decline in light of the extent to which the symptoms interfere with daily life . For example, walking into your living room, and then forgetting why you went in there would be considered a normal lapse in memory. Driving home from work, and then forgetting how to get to your house, might be characteristic of dementia.

The following symptoms are typically considered signs of age-related memory loss:

  • Forgetting details of an event that happened last year
  • Occasionally forgetting dates or where you last placed your keys
  • Occasionally having trouble finding the right word

In contrast, the following problems might be considered indicative of dementia, although only a doctor can make that diagnosis.

  • Having trouble recognizing family members
  • Not knowing the names of family members
  • Forgetting the details of a recent conversation
  • Frequently having trouble finding the right word
  • Frequently using unusual substitutions for words (e.g. “warm shirt” instead of “sweater”)

For all of life’s challenges, the dedicated healthcare providers at West Hills Hospital are here to help. We provide a full range of general and specialty medical services for the West Hills community, with an emphasis on compassionate, patient-centered care. Call (818) 676-4321 to speak with a friendly member of our trusted nursing staff.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *