As we age, things that may have once been brushed off as being absent-minded, scatterbrained, or just having a bad memory start to seem a little more sinister. Could it be dementia? It’s tough to know when you should head to a doctor, so we’ve compiled some facts about normal age based memory decline and dementia.
What does a dementia diagnosis entail?
According to Alz.org, A diagnosis of dementia can only be given if the patient has at least two of the following mental functions impaired:
- Communication and language
- Ability to focus and pay attention
- Reasoning and judgment
- Visual perception
Of course, in your daily life you’ve probably experienced one of more of those, but don’t get alarmed just yet. No one has a perfect track record on these, so part of a diagnosis is that the problem is getting progressively worse. Additionally, there are other things that can affect memory, such as “depression, head injury, strokes, side effects of drugs or medications, and alcoholism.” (dementia.com). A doctor will typically rule these out before giving you a diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s.
What should you look for in a dementia diagnosis?
The number one thing you should be looking for is if this is affecting your daily living. The typical aging process that occurs should not impair your daily life too terribly.
Alz.org lists 10 warning signs of dementia
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life
- Challenges in planning or solving problems
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure
- Confusion with time or place
- Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
- New Problems with words in speaking or writing
- Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
- Decreased or poor judgement
- Withdrawal from Work or social activities
- Changes in mood and personality.
In normal aging, you will typically not experience difficulty in things you’ve always done and continue to do often. For example, if you make box mac and cheese for your kids every day, you probably don’t need to read the box to remember how much milk and butter to add. Not needing the box, and then one day suddenly forgetting how to make mac and cheese may be a warning sign of dementia.
A good indicator that things are not just bad memory can come from the input of your spouse, friends and close family. If your husband complains that it seems like you are forgetting things more often than usual, or your colleagues tell you that you repeat questions often, you may want to talk to your primary care physician. Concern about dementia even if you don’t have it, may increase anxiety which could in-turn lead to more forgetting, so talking it out with a healthcare professional is always a good course of action.
What do normal age-related memory problems look like?
Helpguide.org lists a number of age-related forgetfulness situations that are perfectly normal and not a cause for concern:
- Occasionally forgetting where you left things you use regularly, such as glasses or keys.
- Forgetting names of acquaintances or blocking one memory with a similar one, such as mixing up names.
- Occasionally forgetting an appointment or walking into a room and forgetting why you entered.
- Becoming easily distracted or having trouble remembering what you’ve just read, or the details of a conversation
- Having information “on the tip of your tongue”
Are there any tests to determine if I should be concerned about Dementia?
There are a number of self-administered tests you can take to help determine if you should see a doctor. None of these tests are definitive proof or result in a diagnosis, but they are valuable tools to help steer you in the right direction.
This test is meant for a loved-one to take. It asks questions about daily tasks and expected functions.
The SAGE test was developed by the Ohio State University College of Medicine, and is a test that the person who may have memory impairment takes themselves. There are 4 versions of the test, but only one should be used.
How do I talk to my doctor if I think my loved-one or I have dementia?
Unfortunately there is no definitive test for dementia. Dementia diagnoses require a thorough review of your medical history, tests of your mental status and mood, a physical and neurological exam, and blood and imaging tests to rule out other causes of memory impairment. Be prepared for a lot of questions, and maybe visiting more than one doctor.
Your journey will begin with your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a specialist depending on your symptoms and their suspicions about what is to blame for your memory problem. Specialists may include neurologists, psychiatrists, or psychologists. Prepare for your doctor visit by keeping a journal of your symptoms, when they occur, and any other information you think may be relevant. Be specific. If you have questions you want to bring up, make a note of these as well – doctor visits are stressful and you may forget a question while amid all of the hustle and bustle.
If you or a loved-one are diagnosed with dementia, a memory home may eventually be needed to help with caregiving. Landmark Memory Care provides not just a home but a family. Our Care Partners continue to encourage independence, offer a helping hand as needed and provide assistance, with compassion and respect, while maintaining your loved one’s dignity. With the help of professional dementia caregivers, you can obtain respite care for the day, or the weekend, or whatever you need. To learn more about respite care and other options for your loved one, please contact us today.