Area Agency on Aging: Dementia is not normal aging

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    By Kay Kaylor
    PREVIEW Columnist

    I advocate for residents in skilled nursing and assisted living residences as the regional long-term care ombudsman. I also am a Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor, all as an employee of San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging (SJBAAA). The many aging and care concerns will be addressed here.

    The National Institute on Aging (NIA) gave some clear differences between aging memory loss and dementia in a Jan. 19 article (reviewed October 2020) titled “Memory, Forgetfulness and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?” Mild forgetfulness, normal while aging, might involve learning less quickly than when younger or forgetting to pay a bill occasionally.

    More serious forgetfulness makes it harder to do tasks like driving and shopping. Commonly known signs of a problem with memory are getting lost in familiar places and repeating questions. Other signs include confusing time, place and people and having trouble following directions. It is important to note that illnesses such as depression, a urinary tract or other infection, a tumor or certain drugs or combination of drugs can also cause side effects like memory and thinking problems. Anyone with cognitive and memory symptoms should be checked by a doctor.

    Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is diagnosed for people with more memory problems than are considered “normal” for their age. People living with this diagnosis do not experience some of the Alzheimer’s or other dementia symptoms, such as personality changes. They can carry out everyday activities, but might lose items more often, forget to attend events or appointments, and have more trouble with finding words than others the same age. The NIA suggests that people with MCI to get medical checkups every six to 12 months to evaluate their memory and to learn habits, behaviors and activities that improve or maintain memory and thinking skills.

    A dementia diagnosis, on the other hand, is not a normal part of aging and includes loss of cognitive function. It interferes with a person’s quality of life and activities. 

    “People with dementia may also have problems with language skills, visual perception or paying attention. Some people have personality changes,” the article states. 

    Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia for people older than age 65, is one of many types of dementias. Examples of symptoms that differ from normal aging include making poor judgments and decisions frequently and problems with timely paying of monthly bills. Other symptoms are losing track of the date or time of year, trouble with conversations and misplacing items frequently and not finding them.

    The NIA also warns of unproven treatments, especially if they sound too promising or advertise a “scientific breakthrough.” For more information on memory and cognition, call the NIA’s Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, (800) 438-4380; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, (800) 352-9424; or the Alzheimer’s Association,(800) 272-3900. 

    SJBAAA offers resources for people age 60 and older or on Medicare; see sjbaaa.org. For further information, please call or text 403-2165 or send an email to kkaylor@sjbaaa.org.