Is it Memory Loss or Dementia?

When you don’t seem to be remembering things as well as you did in the past, it can be extremely upsetting, even frightening. Facing up to the possibility of memory loss or dementia inevitably shifts your perceptions, relationships, and priorities. But experiencing symptoms of dementia doesn’t have to mean the end of your normal life. Certain types of dementia can be slowed or even reversed if caught in time. The first step is to understand what distinguishes normal memory loss from dementia symptoms, and how to identify the different types of dementia. The more you understand about dementia, the more you can do to improve the outcome and preserve your sense of control.

What you can do

  1. Recognize the signs and symptoms of dementia
  2. Learn the difference between normal memory changes and dementia
  3. Distinguish between the different types of dementia
  4. Test to see if you may have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early dementia
  5. Find strategies for reducing your risk or delaying the onset of dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a collection of symptoms including memory loss, personality change, and impaired intellectual functions that result from disease or trauma to the brain. These changes are not part of normal aging and are severe enough to impact daily living, independence, and relationships. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, there are also many other forms, including vascular and mixed dementia.


With dementia, there will likely be noticeable decline in communication, learning, remembering, and problem solving. These changes may occur quickly or very slowly over time.

The progression and outcome of dementia vary, but are largely determined by the type of dementia and which area of the brain is affected. Whatever the diagnosis, there can be plenty of things you can do to help slow or prevent symptoms of dementia and continue to enjoy a full and rewarding life.

What are the signs and symptoms of dementia?

As we age, many of us experience lapses in memory. It can be worrying and confusing to realize that something you once took for granted isn’t working as well as it used to. But learning to differentiate the signs and symptoms of dementia from normal aging can help to either set your mind at rest or encourage you to begin taking steps to slow or reverse the condition.

Common Signs and Symptoms include:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgement
  • Difficulties with abstract thinking
  • Faulty reasoning
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Loss of communication skills
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Gait, motor, and balance problems
  • Neglect of personal care and safety
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, agitation

Someone with dementia symptoms may

  • repeatedly ask the same questions
  • become lost or disoriented in familiar places
  • be unable to follow directions
  • be disoriented about the date or time of day
  • not recognize or be confused about familiar people
  • have difficulty with routine tasks such as paying the bills
  • neglect personal safety, hygiene, and nutrition

Normal memory changes vs. dementia symptoms

It’s something we all have to face but the inevitable changes of aging can still be both humbling and surprising. But while experiencing wrinkling skin, fading hair color, and mild, short-term memory loss is common as we age, severe and rapid memory loss is definitely NOT a part of normal aging. In fact, many people are able to preserve their brainpower as they get older by staying mentally and physically active and making other healthy lifestyle choices.

Normal memory changes associated with aging may include:

Slower thinking and problem solving – The speed of learning slows down; short-term memory takes longer to function; reaction time increases.

Decreased attention and concentration – More distractedness. All of the interruptions make learning more difficult.

Slower recall – A greater need for hints to jog the memory.

Distinguishing between normal memory loss and dementia symptoms is not an exact science but there are some clues to look for:

Are memory changes typical aging or symptoms of dementia?

Typical aging:Symptoms of dementia:
You or a loved one complain about memory loss but are able to provide detailed examples of forgetfulnessComplain of memory loss only if asked; unable to recall specific instances
Occasionally search for wordsFrequent word-finding pauses, substitutions
May have to pause to remember directions, but don’t get lost in familiar placesGet lost in familiar places and takes excessive time to return home
Remember recent important events; conversations are not impairedNotable decline in memory for recent events and ability to converse
Interpersonal social skills are at the same level as they’ve always beenLoss of interest in social activities; may behave in socially inappropriate ways
Adapted from: The American Medical Association
 

What causes dementia?

In a healthy brain, mass and speed may decline in adulthood, but this miraculous organ continues to form vital connections throughout life. However, when connections are lost through inflammation, disease, or injury, neurons eventually die and dementia can develop. While the prospect of literally losing one’s self can be extremely traumatic, early intervention can dramatically alter the outcome.

In the past 20 years, scientists have greatly demystified the origins of dementia. Genetics may increase your risks, but scientists believe a combination of hereditary, environmental, and lifestyle factors are also at work.

What to do if you have symptoms of dementia

Because dementia symptoms can be caused by any number of conditions, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is critical for management and treatment. The sooner you address the problem, the better, so make an appointment with your doctor right away.


Your doctor can assess your personal risk factors, evaluate your symptoms, offer tips on healthy lifestyle adjustments, and help you obtain appropriate care.

Preventing or delaying dementia

Recent research suggests that healthy lifestyle habits and mental stimulation may prevent dementia altogether or at least delay its onset. Just as physical exercise keeps you physically fit, exercising your mind and memory can help you stay mentally sharp, no matter how old you are. Adding brain foods like omega 3, choline and nootropics like Nitrovit can also help you in delaying dementia.These strategies can help reduce your risk of dementia.

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