How to Tell the Difference between Normal Aging and Alzheimer’s

Aging naturally brings with it changes to your mind and body that may catch your attention.  You may begin to wonder if those increasingly frequent episodes of forgetting where you put your keys or trying to come up with the right word are signs of normal aging or something more serious.  In most cases, episodes of forgetfulness are caused by normal age-related memory loss.  Sleep deprivation and emotional problems such as stress or depression can even be the cause.  But for some, the form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease may be the source of the memory loss and other noticeable changes in the mind and body.  While every individual is unique and not all people will experience the same symptoms, there are several distinctions that can be made between Alzheimer’s disease and normal aging.  

1) Difficulty Completing Tasks

As people age normally, they may require help occasionally with completing tasks – especially if the task is something new to them, such as programming electronics.

However, people facing Alzheimer’s may begin to have trouble completing daily tasks that were once very familiar to them.  If they’ve driven to the same grocery store or church on a regular basis for many years and suddenly are not sure how to get home, they may be dealing with something more than just normal aging.  

2)  New Problems with Words

As people age, it is normal to occasionally have trouble thinking of what they want to say or the right word to use.

People with Alzheimer’s, however, may have trouble even engaging in conversation.  They may stop in the middle of a conversation and not know how to continue.  They may also repeat themselves and begin using the wrong word to describe an object that was once familiar to them.

3)  Misplacing Things

Those with Alzheimer’s may lose things by putting objects in unusual places.  They lose the ability to retrace their steps to find the object again.  Or, they may lose the ability to identify the object as their own or realize that they need the object.  We all misplace things, like the television remote, but someone with Alzheimer’s might lose the remote and not be able to remember that they need the remote to use the television.

Someone who is experiencing normal aging can misplace things but is usually able to retrace steps to find them.

4)  Difficulty with Visual Perception

Having vision problems can be a sign of Alzheimer’s.  Because of this, the individual can develop balance problems, experience trouble reading, or have difficulty judging spatial relationships (such as the height of a step or distance between objects).  

People who age normally may also experience vision problems, but these issues are usually caused by cataracts.

5)  Memory Loss that Affects Daily Life

Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and is often one of the first signs.  In early stages of the disease, memory loss can occur with recently learned information.  The individual may begin forgetting important dates or asking the same questions over and over again.  They may begin relying more on memory aides and triggers (such as notes or electronic reminders) and may become dependent on others to do tasks that they once used to handle on their own.

Normal aging can also include some memory loss, such as forgetting names or appointments, but the task or word is remembered later.  An example of this for someone who is aging normally would be forgetting to call and make an appointment, whereas someone with Alzheimer’s may not only forget to call and make the appointment, but may also forget where to call and how to even complete the task of making a call.

If someone you love is showing signs of Alzheimer’s, speak with a doctor.  If it becomes necessary to find a safe and secure environment for your loved one, there are Memory Care communities with trained caretakers who can make sure your loved one receives the specialized care he or she needs.  Snyder Village offers two Memory Care programs and can accommodate whichever stage of progression someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia may be facing.  These programs provide safety, security, and specialized activities focused on slowing cognitive decline and promoting physical activity.  

There’s no need to worry if you forget someone’s name or misplace your glasses.   Although frustrating, these actions are most likely just a part of normal aging.  If the memory loss or trouble completing a task begins to disrupt daily life, there is specialized help available to provide the right type of care that you or your loved one may need.

Snyder Village in Metamora is a life plan community that offers independent living in its cottages and apartments.  Snyder Village also features memory care programs in its assisted living and health center.  Physical therapy is also available on site.  Snyder Village’s home care services support residents in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford, and Marshall Counties.  For more information on all services available at Snyder Village, call (309) 367-4300 or visit www.snydervillage.com.