Ask the doctor:
1-14-18. Dear Doc, I’m in my 70’s and have noticed my memory seems to be slipping. I’m having problems remembering people’s names. Does that mean I’m getting Alzheimer’s?
Many people have just that same question. As they age, they develop problems remembering names and occasionally forget where they parked their car, and these changes in cognition are downright scary. So how can you tell the difference between normal aging and Alzheimer’s? Here’s a quick guide.
Normal for aging: It’s usual for people to take longer than before to do mind-oriented tasks (like memorizing something new, doing calculations, or juggling multiple things at once), but they’re still able to do it. They have no difficulties following conversations, balancing their checkbook, reading, and doing other complex activities they’ve already done all their life. They just need more time to complete the task. It can also be harder to remember people’s names or the name of an object, but this is occasional and typically doesn’t cause any major problems. It’s the same with parking one’s car. If it’s occasional and benign, Alzheimer’s is unlikely. But what’s the major difference between normal thinking and aging? Normal memory changes (1) don’t interfere with day-to-day life and (2) don’t get worse over time.
Not normal for aging: Doctors suspect Alzheimer’s (or any type of dementia) when an individual gradually forgets how to do things they could do before and when they have trouble learning new things. People with memory problems also tend to repeat stories in the same conversation. They aren’t able to keep track of what’s already been said, and in time they forget what happened a few minutes ago. Individuals with Alzheimer’s also tend to get lost in familiar places. They’ll go for a walk and not be able to find their way home. Again, the largest difference between normal thinking and aging is that memory problems (1) interfere with day-to-day life and (2) worsen over time
Hope that helps. If you need further clarification or notice you’re having many signs that aren’t normal for aging, consider touching bases with your family doctor. There are many illnesses that look like Alzheimer’s but are perfectly treatable, like depression, vitamin deficiencies, or normal pressure hydrocephalus.
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