Is it just aging?

November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

Contributed by Vijaya Reddy, MD

aging ladiesAs a geriatric specialist, I often see middle aged as well as older women who are concerned about their mental health because they’ve started forgetting things. And quite often they assume they must be suffering from memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But the truth is there are many factors that can contribute to forgetfulness. This includes things like organic brain diseases, infections, medication side effects, and your current emotional state.

In the past decade, cognitive neuroscientists have learned that much of what we blame on fading memory in midlife can be more accurately attributed to failing attention. But as we age, physiological changes in the brain’s frontal lobes can make it harder to maintain attention in the face of distractions. For older adults this can be tough to swallow—your brain is aging right along with your body. But in both cases you can put up a fight. Studies have shown that cardiovascular fitness is associated with the sparing of brain tissue in aging humans. The results suggest a strong biological basis for the role of aerobic fitness in maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health and cognitive functioning in older adults.

Today’s healthcare isn’t just about extending life it’s about improving the mental and physical quality of life we enjoy in our later years. The National Institutes of Health shares information on the benefits of exercise and physical activity for older people. And remember, if you’ve become forgetful, don’t jump to any conclusions. Keep in mind there is a difference between occasional forgetfulness that comes with aging and constantly forgetting things or struggling with routine tasks. If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one, schedule an appointment with a geriatric doctor so she can thoroughly evaluate the situation and come up with an effective plan to ease your worries.

The following chart provided by the Alzheimer’s Association provides a good overview of what’s normal aging and what could be more serious.

Normal signs of aging

Early signs of Alzheimer’s

  • Occasionally forgetting names or recent events, but remembering later
  • Regularly forgetting names and things that you have just learned
  • Making an occasional mistake while balancing your checkbook or forgetting to pay one bill
  • Constant challenges following a plan (like a familiar recipe) or working with numbers
  • Asking for help to use new technology

 

  • Rely more and more on family members to help complete household familiar tasks like laundry or not remembering the rules to a favorite game
  • Forgetting what day it is, but remembering later

 

  • Constantly unsure of time of year or place, including where you are or how you got there
  • Age-related vision changes, like cataracts
  • Difficulty reading, judging distances or determining color
  • Occasionally forgetting the right word
  • Hard time joining or following conversations, or consistently using the wrong words to describe something
  • Forgetting where you placed something, but being able to retrace your steps to find it

 

  • Forgetting where you put something and being unable to retrace your steps. Sometimes, this includes accusing others of stealing what you’ve misplaced.
  • Making a bad decision once in a while

 

  • Decreased or poor judgment – doing things like giving large amounts of money to telemarketers or paying less attention to grooming
  • Occasionally not wanting to interact with coworkers or participate in social obligations
  • Not participating in favorite hobbies, social events, work projects or sports.
  • Becoming irritable when routines are disrupted
  • Complete change in mood and personality

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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