While most people will experience some changes in their memory and thinking as they age, the severe memory loss that accompanies dementia is not normal. This condition affects almost 50 million
people around the world and can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Knowing your risk factors and symptoms – and when to see your physician – are important for early detection and diagnosis.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
“There’s a difference between forgetting where a key was put and forgetting your own name,” says Linda Efird, director of mental health with InnovAge. While people may process information more slowly or have more difficulties multitasking, routine memory, skills, and knowledge remain stable as we age – and they may even improve
Dementia is a general term that describes a decline in mental ability severe enough to impact daily activities. It includes disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem-solving, and decision making. Nearly 80 percent of those with dementia are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While individuals can be diagnosed at any age, those 65 and older are more likely to develop the disease. Race also plays a factor: Latino and Black seniors are at higher risk than their Caucasian counterparts.
A common symptom of Alzheimer's disease is short-term memory loss
. Other typical symptoms include difficulty problem solving, confusion, and erratic behavior. If one of more of these symptoms are present and are interfering with regular daily life activities, it may be time to see a healthcare professional.
“Early diagnosis is critical for early intervention,” says Linda. Early detection also allows time for the person and their loved ones to learn more about their diagnosis, treatments, and next steps. Screening is particularly important for those in the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly. Seniors enrolled in the program are screened twice a year for cognitive impairments, using an evidence-based tool.
“This is a disease that has significant impact on not only our participants, but their caregivers, families, and support systems,” Linda says. While a diagnosis can be overwhelming for both the senior and their family caregiver, early detection allows for informed discussions and involvement in the care plan. “Other than early identification, education is of prime importance.”