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What you need to know about Alzheimer’s versus normal aging

A grandfather helps his grandson with homework.
Blog

/ by UK HealthCare

Whether Alzheimer’s has impacted your own family or someone you know, you’re likely already aware of this widespread disease. Alzheimer’s is a progressive and irreversible disease of the brain that damages memory and the ability to think normally.

Although it can be scary to think a loved one might have Alzheimer’s, it is better to look out for symptoms early on and consult a doctor. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are medications and therapies that might help maintain memory and cognitive abilities for a period of time.

In honor of World Alzheimer’s Month, here’s what you should know about the progressive disease:

Normal aging vs. Alzheimer’s

Signs of both normal aging and Alzheimer’s usually begin for people in their mid-60s. Alzheimer’s disease might be the first thing that comes to mind when an older person is having memory problems. Because of this, there can be confusion between typical signs of aging and more serious signs of dementia.

Normal signs of aging typically include:

  • Forgetting events from a year ago.
  • Occasionally forgetting things that happened.
  • Having difficulty remembering words sometimes.
  • Temporarily forgetting what day it is.
  • Losing things every so often.

These more serious symptoms might be cause for concern:

  • Not remembering recent conversations or events.
  • Not remembering family members or their names.
  • Struggling to hold conversation.
  • Regularly not knowing the date or time of year.
  • Getting lost in familiar places.
  • Handling money or monthly bills poorly.
  • Making poor daily decisions, like leaving food to burn on the stove.
  • Noticeable changes in mood or personality.

Getting a diagnosis

Unfortunately, there is currently no sure way to tell if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s can only be fully diagnosed after death when doctors can examine the brain.

A doctor will use tests such as these to determine if your loved one could have Alzheimer’s disease:

  • A physical and neurological exam to test reflexes, sight, hearing, coordination and balance.
  • A cognitive test to assess memory and thinking abilities.
  • Brain imaging to locate visible abnormalities, such as a stroke or brain trauma that might be the cause.
  • A blood test to rule out other possible causes, such as a vitamin deficiency.

Life with Alzheimer’s

Your loved one’s doctor will make a judgment based on the results of the tests above. If Alzheimer’s is determined to be the cause, they may suggest certain therapies or medications to help manage symptoms.

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