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Normal Aging vs. Dementia: Are you having symptoms?


Joanna Savarese, Ph.D.

As baby boomers are reaching their mid to late 60’s, more and more people in this generation are starting to worry about their cognitive functioning as they continue to age. If you fall into this age group, you may notice that you misplace items more frequently, have that “tip of the tongue” word you just cant recall, or you forget what you are doing right in the middle of the activity you “thought” you were about to do. Many of these short-term memory problems may be due to normal memory loss, stress, living busy lives, poor attention, or being easily distracted while some of these symptoms may be cause for greater concern.

Normal aging is usually characterized by memory changes, such as having greater difficulty remembering names of people, places, or things. The differentiation between normal aging and something more significant is that with normal aging additional core brain functions remain generally intact (such as language, decision making skills, executive functioning etc).

Individuals with Mild Neurocognitive Disorder (used to be referred to as MCI) typically have problems with memory and other core brain functions. These individuals maintain independence but often need compensatory strategies and accommodations to function at this level. Individuals who have Mild NCD are more likely to be diagnosed with dementia in the future. However, early diagnosis and interventions (such as medication and/or cognitive remediation/rehabilitation) have been shown to be useful and effective in slowing the progression of the disease.

Individuals with dementia have problems in recent memory (the ability to learn and recall new information), and other areas of functioning such as language (expressive and/or receptive speech), visuospatial functioning, and executive functioning. These impairments also significantly impact their daily life and ability to function independently.

Dementia can be caused by a number of factors including stroke, medical conditions, poor nutrition, substance abuse (e.g. drugs and alcohol), infection that affects the nervous system, conditions that attack brain cells and connections (e.g. Parkinson’s disease), and brain injury. But, the most common cause of Dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.

Below is a table that differentiates signs and symptoms of normal memory loss from dementia:

Image taken from: http://www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_dementias_types.htm

If you are concerned about yourself (or your loved one) baseline neuropsychological evaluations can help determine your current level of functioning and track the progression of your symptoms over the years. Baseline evaluations will enable practitioners and neuropsychologists to determine if early interventions and treatments, such as cognitive remediation/rehabilitation and other appropriate interventions and recommendations, are necessary.


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