Forgetfulness is common for many of us. Forgetting where we put our keys, running through the list of grandkids’ names until landing on the right one. These are normal parts of aging — or of just having many decades of information inside our heads.
However, memory loss that gets worse and begins to affect your daily life is a sign of a much more severe problem. Family and friends are usually the first ones to notice any major changes in memory or thinking.
Dementia is a condition that worsens over time, causing severe cognitive decline in older adults. As a result, patients may find it difficult to perform basic everyday tasks. Eventually, someone suffering from dementia will need constant care. This leads to tough decisions for family members and caregivers.
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Types of Dementia
Dementia is a decline in thinking and cognitive skills that becomes more likely as people age. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Vascular dementia, caused by stroke or brain injury, is the second most common form.
Sometimes, older adults have what’s called mild cognitive impairment. This is memory loss that’s more severe than typical aging, but doesn’t interfere too much with daily life. People with mild cognitive impairment are often aware that they have memory loss. This may be a sign of early dementia and does increase the risk for developing dementia. However, it does not mean someone will progress to dementia.
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How Is Dementia Diagnosed?
Look for warning signs of the condition to know whether to visit the doctor or realize when you need to take a loved one to the doctor. The earlier dementia is diagnosed, the sooner treatment and planning for the future can begin.
- Struggles to remember recent events
- Trouble reacting to problems and showing good judgment
- Difficulty finding their way around familiar places
- Trouble finding the right words to express emotions
- Withdrawing, acting irritable
A physician diagnoses dementia by doing a physical exam, asking about recent and past events then verifying answers with a close family member. They will also perform basic memory and mental health tests.
Sometimes the cause can be treated, so your doctor may do tests to look for an infection or for a tumor or brain injury. Falls can cause a head injury that can lead to symptoms of dementia.
Dementia will worsen over time, and there’s no cure for the problem. Some medications are available that can slow the progression.
It’s important for family to help someone with dementia be safe at home and be prepared to seek additional help as the condition gets worse. Palliative care specialists are an excellent resource for individuals and caregivers. They can provide symptom and pain management, as well as additional support services for all the parties involved. Bringing in these experts early is the best way for everyone to feel prepared for what’s to come.
About Aging Institute
The UPMC Aging Institute provides resources for older adults, their loved ones, and caregivers at every stage of the aging process. We create inventive programs and health care services. Our team includes world-renowned researchers, doctors, and experts. We research the aging process and use what we learn to create services to help seniors live longer and healthier lives. We partner with other organizations to determine the biggest challenges facing seniors and work to overcome them.