As we age, our brains change, but Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not an inevitable part of aging. In fact, up to 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed. It helps to understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to brain health.
Normal brain aging may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, but routine memory, skills, and knowledge are stable and may even improve with age. It’s normal to occasionally forget recent events such as where you put your keys or the name of the person you just met.
SYMPTOMS OF DEMENTIA OR ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
In the United States, 6.2 million people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. People with dementia have symptoms of cognitive decline that interfere with daily life—including disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem solving, and decision-making. Signs to watch for include:
- Not being able to complete tasks without help.
- Trouble naming items or close family members.
- Forgetting the function of items.
- Repeating questions.
- Taking much longer to complete normal tasks.
- Misplacing items often.
- Being unable to retrace steps and getting lost.
CONDITIONS THAT CAN MIMIC DEMENTIA
Symptoms of some vitamin deficiencies and medical conditions such as vitamin B12 deficiency, infections, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), or normal pressure hydrocephalus (a neurological condition caused by the build-up of fluid in the brain) can mimic dementia. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause dementia-like symptoms. If you have these symptoms, it is important to talk to your health care provider to find out if there are any underlying causes for these symptoms.
For more information, see What Is Dementia?
HOW IS DEMENTIA DIAGNOSED?
A healthcare provider can perform tests on attention, memory, problem solving and other cognitive abilities to see if there is cause for concern. A physical exam, blood tests, and brain scans like a CT or MRI can help determine an underlying cause.
WHAT TO DO IF A LOVED ONE IS SHOWING SYMPTOMS
Talk with your loved one about seeing a health care provider if they are experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia to get a brain health check up.
BE EMPOWERED TO DISCUSS MEMORY PROBLEMS
More than half of people with memory loss have not talked to their healthcare provider, but that doesn’t have to be you. Get comfortable with starting a dialogue with your health care provider if you observe any changes in memory, or an increase in confusion, or just if you have any questions. You can also discuss health care planning, management of chronic conditions, and caregiving needs.
To learn more, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/dementia-not-normal-aging.html.
To learn more about the Alzheimer’s Association, please visit Alzheimer’s Association | Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Help