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Is it a Sign of Dementia or Just Getting Older?

As our loved ones get older, their lives begin to change and slow down. Some of these signs of aging are completely normal, but others may be cause for real concern. The Alzheimer's Association has offered some guidance on the matter: is it a sign of dementia or of just getting older?

Memory loss

Normal sign of aging: Sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later.

Sign of dementia: Forgetting recently learned information and important dates or events; Asking for the same information over and over; Increasing reliance on family members, electronic devices, or reminder notes for things he used to handle on his own.

Challenges in planning or solving problems

Normal sign of aging: Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook.

Sign of dementia: Changes in ability to develop and follow a plan or work with numbers; Trouble following a familiar recipe, keeping track of monthly bills, or counting change; Difficulty concentrating and taking much longer to do things than he did before.

Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure

Normal sign of aging: Occasionally needing help to use the settings on a microwave or record a television show.

Sign of dementia: Difficulty completing daily tasks; Having trouble driving to a familiar location, managing a budget at work, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

Confusion with time or place

Normal sign of aging: Getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later.

Sign of dementia: Losing track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time; Trouble understanding something if it is not happening immediately; Sometimes forgetting where he is or how he got there.

Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships

Normal sign of aging: Vision changes related to cataracts, glaucoma, or age-related macular degeneration.

Sign of dementia: Difficulty reading, judging distance, and determining color or contrast, which may cause problems with driving.

New problems with words in speaking or writing

Normal sign of aging: Sometimes having trouble finding the right word.

Sign of dementia: Trouble following or joining a conversation; Stopping in the middle of a conversation and having no idea how to continue or repeating himself; Struggling with vocabulary, having problems finding the right word, or calling things by the wrong name (e.g. calling a watch a “hand clock”).

Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps

Normal sign of aging: Misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them.

Sign of dementia: Putting things in unusual places; Losing things and being unable to retrace steps to find it; Sometimes accusing others of stealing

Decreased or poor judgment

Normal sign of aging: Making a bad decision once in a while.

Sign of dementia: Experiencing changes in judgment or decision making; Using poor judgment when dealing with money (e.g. giving large amounts to telemarketers); Paying less attention to grooming or keeping themselves clean.

Withdrawal from work or social activities

Normal sign of aging: Sometimes feeling weary of work, family, and social obligations.

Sign of dementia: Removing self from hobbies, social activities, work projects, or sports; Trouble keeping up with a favorite sports team or remembering how to complete a favorite hobby; Avoid being social because of the changes he has experienced.

Changes in mood and personality

Normal sign of aging: Developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.

Sign of dementia: Mood and personality changes; Becoming confused, suspicious, depressed, fearful, or anxious; Easily upset at home, at work, with friends, or in places where he is out of his comfort zones.

If you think your loved one may be showing early signs of dementia, there is a wealth of information and resources at the Alzheimer's Association website. If you think a nursing home stay may be imminent, you can meet with our attorneys to see what avenues your loved one can take to protect his assets while becoming eligible for Medicaid.


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