Dementia VS Ageing

Spotting the difference between signs of early dementia and signs of ageing.

It is very difficult for someone without medical knowledge to know whether these are a sign of ‘normal’ ageing or are evidence of developing dementia, particularly if it is a loved one.

With dementia, someone is likely to show a noticeable decline in the ability to communicate, learn skills, remember things, and solve problems.

These changes tend to occur very slowly over time.

Some symptoms may include:

  • short term memory loss
  • confusion and needing help with daily tasks
  • impaired judgement
  • problems with language and understanding
  • changes in behaviour
  • disorientation in time and place
  • hallucinations, abnormal beliefs, anxiety, agitation

People often forget things the older they get, most often this is a normal sign of ageing.

Some very common problems include:

  • forgetting people’s names
  • struggling to remember day-to-day events or experiences
  • misplacing items (such as keys or glasses) around the house
  • getting lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
  • finding it hard to start or follow conversations
  • forgetting appointments or important dates (such as birthdays)
  • struggling with the steps in a recipe

Getting lost in familiar places

Typical signs of ageing

– Have to pause to recall directions clearly or may have to repeat directions to remember them

– Do not get lost in familiar places or forget the route home from the local shops, for example.

Possible signs of dementia

– May often get lost in familiar places.

– Forgot a simple route, such as the way back from the toilet in a restaurant (this is a very good example of short-term memory loss).

Losing interest

Signa of normal ageing

– Retain their social skills and normal routines such as washing and dressing

– May them longer to carry out these actions than when they were younger.

– They also usually continue to enjoy social occasions and their normal interests.

Possible signs of dementia

– May lose interest in social activities, hobbies, and pastimes.

– They may forget to wash or be unable to put on a simple article of clothing.

Memory and new information

Common symptoms of normal ageing

– Forgetting something you were told a while ago.
– Misplacing things from time to time – for example, your phone, glasses or the TV remote – but retracing steps to find them.
– Taking longer to work out new tasks, such as how to set up and use a new appliance or device.

Possible signs of dementia

– Forgetting something you were only told recently, or asking for the same information repeatedly.

– Putting objects in unusual places for example your keys in the bathroom cabinet and unable to learn new tasks

Planning and decision making

Common signs of normal ageing

– A bit slower but able to think things through.

– Finding it harder to do several tasks at once but being able to focus on a single task.

– Occasionally making decisions without fully thinking them through.

Possible signs of dementia

– Getting very confused when planning or thinking things through

– Struggling to stay focused on a single task

– Not making informed decisions

Mood and Behaviour

Signs of normal ageing

– Sometimes feeling reluctant to join in work, family and social meetings

– Becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted

Possible symptoms of dementia

– Becoming withdrawn and losing intrest in work, friends, or hobbies

– Feeling unusually sad, anxious, frightened or low in confidence

– Getting easily upset or angry in familiar situations.

These signs and symptoms are indicative of dementia, but we have to be wary of making assumptions. Several conditions may ‘mimic’ dementia or cause a temporary dementia-like state. For example, some forms of depression cause people to lose interest in their appearance and to cease bothering to wash or change their clothes. Another example is low blood sugar, which can cause susceptible people to become confused and agitated. A urinary infection can also cause symptoms similar to dementia in older people. These symptoms normally come on fairly suddenly, without the history of a slow decline that we usually see with developing dementia. If you feel that a loved one could have dementia, contact your local GP to get a professional opinion and receive support and more information.

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