Age-Related Memory Loss or Something More Serious: How to Tell the Difference

Confused Man

The brain is a complex and, at times, mysterious “computer” that we still do not fully understand. As we age, our brains can start experiencing mental glitches that affect our ability to perform well on our daily tasks.

Memory loss is a common symptom of old age. However, it is important to pay attention to our mental health and be aware of more serious mental diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can be tricky to spot as many of their symptoms are similar to those of regular memory loss. Below you will find some helpful senior health tips and information concerning memory loss, cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Standard Age-Related Memory Loss Symptoms

 According to an article from the US Library of Medicine, “Measurable changes in cognition occur with normal aging. The most important changes are declines in cognitive tasks that require one to quickly process or transform information to make a decision, including measures of speed of processing, working memory, and executive cognitive function.” ¹

Our brains shrink as we age and this leads to some mental decline and decreased performance on certain cognitive abilities. This is a natural occurrence and it should not significantly impact your overall day.

Some common age-related memory loss issues you may notice as you age include:

  • Minor issues paying attention or difficulty multi-tasking
  • Struggling with complex tasks
  • Occasionally forgetting appointments, dates, and names
  • Struggling to find the words you are looking for

It is normal to forget small details as we get older. However, if you start noticing that some of your functioning is starting to significantly impact your day, you may be experiencing the type of cognitive decline which can lead to more serious issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive Decline – An Early Warning Sign

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD) is the self-reported experience of worsening or more frequent confusion or memory loss. It is a form of cognitive impairment and one of the earliest noticeable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.” ²

If you start experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline, it is recommended that you should start exercising your brain to prevent the development of more serious conditions.  Some common symptoms of cognitive decline include:

  • Forgetting recent conversations and events
  • Forgetting to take your medication (a medication dispenser can help)
  • Misplacing things
  • Losing the ability to organize tasks 
  •  Losing your sense of direction 
  • Feeling increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions and plans
  • Having a hard time understanding directions or instructions

Changes in Character

As you age, you may also notice changes in character. This is generally caused by stress. You may get angry and swear more often than you did before. You can also become more impulsive than you once were. On the other hand, you can also become more apathetic or shy and withdraw from activities you used to enjoy. You may ruminate and worry more often. Character changes can go in any direction.

While some symptoms are minor and don’t hinder your daily routine much, they can get worse if you don’t take preventive measures to improve your brain and cognitive abilities. If you begin to notice more severe cognitive decline, you may want to start taking measures to ensure your safety. For instance, a medical alert device from Alert1 can help ensure you get help if you begin having issues with falling.   

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

 When cognitive decline progresses, it can turn into Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a specific brain disease. It destroys brain cells and their connections resulting in issues with memory and other mental functions. According to the National Library of Medicine:

“An estimated 6.2 million Americans aged 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's dementia today. This number could grow to 13.8 million by 2060 barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure AD. Official death certificates recorded 121,499 deaths from AD in 2019, the latest year for which data are available, making Alzheimer's the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death among Americans aged 65 and older.” ³

This makes Alzheimer’s a significant concern that should be taken very seriously. It is important to start taking precautions, such as purchasing a medical alert system for seniors, especially if you notice any of the symptoms below.

Some common Alzheimer’s symptoms include:

  • Memory issues (forgetting recent events, faces, and names of friends/family)
  • Confusion (especially in unfamiliar places)
  • Difficulty with tasks that involve planning and organizing
  • Difficulty with language and choosing the right words
  • Difficulty with complex tasks and numbers
  • Asking the same questions repeatedly
  • Becoming withdrawn and anxious

If you notice symptoms of Alzheimer’s you will want to watch for signs of it progressing into dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases.”

Symptoms of Dementia

 

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, “Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds. There are over 55 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2020. This number will almost double every 20 years, reaching 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.”

Dementia is not considered a disease like its counterpart Alzheimer’s, as it cannot be defined by a source. Instead, it is a collection of symptoms that impact memory, communication, and one’s ability to perform everyday tasks.

The most common symptoms of dementia include:

  • Memory loss that affects day-to-day abilities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with language
  • Struggling to follow conversations
  • Trouble performing familiar tasks
  • Disorientations about the time and place
  • Impaired judgement
  • Changes in your mood

As you may notice, many of the symptoms coincide with the symptoms of standard aging and memory loss, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. They are just at a more progressed level. Therefore, many people can have trouble identifying them. One of the best ways to determine if you may have dementia is to analyze how significantly your symptoms are impacting your life. If they are significantly impacting your ability to go about your daily routine, you should consult your doctor for help.

If you find out that you are progressing into dementia, you will also want to start making plans to ensure your safety. This includes looking into a caregiving plan and making your home more dementia-friendly. Alert1’s On-the-Go Medical Alert Wristwatch with GPS can help keep you safe, as it pinpoints your location anywhere in the United States, and offers 24/7/365 monitoring services that supply help at a moment’s notice. This is especially helpful for those with dementia as confusion about time and place may cause disorientation when out of the house.

Overview

Overall, it can be tricky to differentiate between standard age-related memory loss, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia, as they all have similar symptoms. The main difference between standard memory loss and these more significant conditions is degree-- how significantly the symptoms impact one’s daily routine and lifestyle.

While this brief guide can help you generally gauge what condition you may be dealing with, the best way to accurately determine if you have standard age-related memory loss, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia is to talk to your doctor. There are also cognitive screening toolsonline that can help provide you with some useful senior health solutions.  Either way, exercising your brain and taking preventive measures against these conditions will benefit you in the long run. 

Ways to Prevent Cognitive Decline, Dementia, and Alzheimer's

There are multiple ways you can help avoid cognitive decline and more serious issues. These techniques are recommended to help you maintain your cognitive abilities.

Stay Social

Socializing helps keep your brain cells active, improves your mood, and can help keep your brain healthy. Be sure to spend time with loved ones or friends on a regular basis to ensure good cognitive health. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this a difficult task for seniors; however, phone calls and video chats can also prove useful in staying social. An Alert1 emergency alert system can also help ensure you have a support system if you happen to fall or need medical attention.

Eat Healthy

Food is medicine, and the foods you eat can also affect your brain and cognitive functions. It is important to eat nutritious meals as you age. Here are some great nutrient-rich foods that will help your brain function.

  • Blueberries
  • Eggs
  • Fatty Fish
  • Fruits
  • Avocados
  • Leafy Greens
  • Nuts
  • Chocolate
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Olive Oil
  • Tea and Coffee

Exercise Your Brain

The brain is like a muscle. You need to exercise it to keep it strong. Be sure to challenge yourself occasionally. This may include activities such as puzzles, reading, memory activity books, playing cards, listening to music, or even trying to learn a new skill. Participating in these activities will help you keep your brain healthy.

Safety Tips

If you notice progressing signs of memory loss and decreased cognitive function, there are certain measures you can take to ensure your safety.

Know When to See a Doctor

If your memory loss and mental decline are beginning to significantly impact your ability to perform your daily tasks, it is best to see a doctor for a consultation. Based on his/her findings, you will be directed to the next steps to take and get any questions you may have answered.

Make Home Modifications

Depending on how far your symptoms are progressing, you may find it suitable to make modifications around your home to ensure your safety. This includes repairing any damage that may pose a threat, cleaning up clutter, using colorful tape to line stairs, and putting up reminders for certain things.

GPS Emergency Alert Button

Disorientation and confusion are common symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. This can lead to wandering out of the home or becoming lost or disoriented. Alert1’s medical alert necklace with fall detection can supply peace of mind that help is always standing by.

When a Fall Detection medical alert system senses a fall, it automatically alerts a 24/7 Command Center. The built-in GPS pinpoints your location so help will find you wherever you may be. Alzheimer’s and dementia can be scary conditions to deal with, but help is always a button press away.

 

 

¹ Hear, Semin. Aug. 2015. The Impact of Age on Cognition. US National Library of Medicine. The Impact of Age on Cognition.

² Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. n.d. Subjective Cognitive Decline — A Public Health Issue. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Subjective Cognitive Decline — A Public Health Issue.

³ PubMed.gov Staff. March. 2021. 2021 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures. National Library of Medicine. 2021 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures.

Alzheimer’s Association Staff. n.d. Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference? Alzheimer’s Association. Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s Disease: What is the Difference?. 

⁵ Alzheimer’s Disease International Staff. n.d. Dementia Statistics. Alzheimer’s Disease International. Dementia Statistics.

Mez, Jesse. July. 2017. Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football. JAMA Network. Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football.