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Aging or Alzheimer's: How to distinguish common cognitive aging and more serious conditions

January 6, 2018

As we or our loved ones age, we can begin to notice a change in memory and cognitive function. This is due to how aging affects the brain. Not all of these changes and signs signal something serious such as Alzheimer's or dementia, but rather just indicate normal aging.


How can you tell whether changes in thinking are normal are can be discerned in a few ways. Normal changes in thinking include the following:

  • Increased difficulty remembering names

  • Increased difficulty recalling words

  • Increased problems with multi-tasking

  • Mild decreases in attention span

Despite these changes, aging adults can still create new memories, learn new things, and develop better speaking and vocabulary skills.


What causes these common signs? There are several factors. These factors include brain shrinkage related to the parts of the brain that control learning and other complex mental activities, reduced blood flow, reduced communications between certain neurons in the brain, and increased inflammation.


How is Alzheimer's disease different from normal cognitive changes? With Alzheimer's, rather than reduced communication between neurons in the brain, the neurons stop functioning, lose all connection with other neurons, and die. In the final stages of Alzheimer's, the brain atrophies and causes significant loss in brain volume.


Older adults under the age of 80 may live as long as 10 years past the diagnosis date; those over 80 tend to live 3-4 years past the diagnosis date. Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and some studies indicate it is the third leading cause of death for older adults.


The signs of Alzheimer's are different than those of common aging. They are:

  • Loss of recent memories such as forgetting conversations and events that just happened

  • Difficulty with everyday mental tasks such as following a recipe

  • Rambling speech

  • Using incorrect words frequently

  • Getting confused about time and place

  • Wandering off

  • Delusions such as thinking a caregiver or family member may be trying to hurt them

  • Mood swings that include depression or anger

If you are concerned about you or a loved one's cognitive abilities, please talk with you doctor. They can provide you with the proper diagnosis and information on whether or not the symptoms are signs of normal aging, dementia or Alzheimer's.


If you need in home care to help manage Alzheimer's disease, Sunshine Home Care may be able to assist you. For more information, contact us or call us at 1-877-477-2014. To find out more about Alzheimer's, view our other articles here, or visit the Alzheimer's Association website.


For more information on care giving for those afflicted with Alzheimer's, read this article.

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