Aging comes in the company of several health concerns including forgetfulness, depression, weakening immunity and the increased risk of developing dementia. We often hear of instances in which people become disinterested in their life as they step into the senior age bracket. Not to mention, aging people typically fail to recall small bits of information.
However, down the timeline, we may hear that the person developed dementia. Subsequently, you are probably going to end up baffled with the horrifying question that hangs over your head – was that person aging or did he have dementia all along?
As disturbing as it is, aging and dementia tend to share symptoms. For instance, memory slips, distorted concentration, and disinterest in daily activities are some of the signs of aging that also serve as early telltale symptoms of dementia. This makes it hard to sketch the difference between aging and dementia.
Since it is not wise to sweep early dementia symptoms under the rug by mistaking them for aging, let’s dig into the difference between healthy aging and dementia.
The basics – dementia, and aging
Dementia is a neurodegenerative disorder. In simple words, it is a brain ailment that progresses over time, killing all the brain cells so much so that a patient is unable to live independently.
Some of the typical hallmarks of the disease include cognitive decline along the lines of memory, communication skills, thinking, reasoning, and more. Eventually, it culminates in behavioral changes as the brain tissues degenerate.
The World Health Organization (WHO) outlines that there are an estimated 50 million dementia patients around the globe with 10 million new cases added every year. Of these, Alzheimer’s disease (the most common dementia type) rounds up the highest numbers of patients, accounting for between 60-70% of the total cases.
On the other hand, roughly 11% or 809 million individuals on the globe are aged over 60. The number is expected to shoot to nearly 2 billion by 2050.
Why do we mistake dementia for normal aging?
Generally, Alzheimer’s disease affects people when they step into seniorhood. This means that the early symptoms of the mental ailment start to show when folks are aged 65 or above. Not so surprisingly, this is also the time when aging strikes a person.
1 in 10 people who are above the age of 65 suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. It is possible to develop dementia at an early age too. However, the cases of early-onset dementia are less common with only 5% of the cases being diagnosed at a young age.
Thus, statistics show us that Alzheimer’s disease mainly impacts older adults. The same age bracket is what mixes the signs of dementia and healthy aging. Consequently, we end up confusing both the conditions.
How to tell the difference between healthy aging and dementia?
Dementia mirrors some of the most commonplace signs of aging such as memory loss. Almost 40% of the people in their senior age tend to suffer from memory slips. They forget small snippets of information.
However, forgetfulness is an early sign of dementia too. So, how do you tell the difference? The most significant indicator is to note if the memory loss starts impacting a person’s everyday life.
For example, a person may forget where he put his reading glasses or if he left his car keys in the car itself. Such missing blanks in the memory are commonly observed during aging. However, distress signals light up when the blanks become wider such as a person not remembering the day or season.
Let’s walk you through some more ways to identify the difference between the two.
Differences in the memory and learning trajectory
You may note the following differences:
- A person moving up the aging ladder occasionally forgets things but a patient with a softening brain frequently forgets things
- A senior adult fails to recall an event from years ago. However, a dementia patient cannot remember details about a recent event
- A senior individual finds it challenging to recall an acquaintance’s name but an ill person may not remember his family members’ names or faces
- An aging individual may misplace objects or things. However, a dementia patient puts away objects in unusual places such as keys in the flower pot
Differences in communication and language skills
In this regard, observe the following differences:
- An aging person sometimes finds it hard to find the right words, but a patient frequently finds it hard to give names to things, usually referring to them as “that thing”
- An aging person loses track of his conversation if someone interrupts but a dementia patient regularly fails in keeping tabs of what someone was saying
- A senior individual has to focus very hard to keep up with ongoing chats, but a dementia patient faces trouble in joining or following any conversation
Differences in problem-solving
In this context, aging and ailing individuals show the following variance:
- An aging person is slow to react or think about things. However, a person with dementia gets confused when it comes to planning or decision-making
- An aging person is unlikely to handle multiple tasks at one time, but a person developing dementia fails to concentrate properly
- An aging person occasionally makes mistakes while dealing with finances but an early dementia patient can’t track monthly bills
Three more areas where you can note the contrast entail:
- An aging person may feel sad or depressed, but a patient feels anxious or frightened
- A senior folk may be uncertain about the date or day but figures it out later. On the flip side, a patient can lose complete track of the time, date, and season
- People heading into senior age may experience vision changes related to cataracts or so, but an early dementia patient suffers from incorrectly interpreting visual information. For instance, he may find it hard to judge the distance on the stairs
Moving on – how to age healthily and reduce your risk of dementia
Since Alzheimer’s disease does not have a cure in sight so far, working to prevent it is your best bet to save yourself from it. In this regard, make some crucial lifestyle changes. These include:
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthy
- Challenging your brain
Regular exercise carries more oxygen to the brain, which is vital for nourishing its cells. Moreover, a landmark study confirms that an hour of exercise can halve the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, it is vital to dedicate some time to move your muscles regardless of your age.
The WHO suggests that people aged 65 or above should engage in either moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 150 minutes or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 75 minutes per week.
Similarly, you can trim the risk of dementia by eating nutritious foods. Some essential nutrients that you need to take include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin A, and more. A simple way is to follow a MIND diet, which is specifically planned to improve brain health and lower the risk of dementia.
Research says that the MIND diet can scale down the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 53%. Some common foods in this diet include nuts, whole grains, leafy vegetables, olive oil, fish, and beans among other items.
Lastly, stimulating your brain keeps it active, helping to chop the risk of dementia as it assists in making new brain connections. To this end, challenge your brain in different ways. Playing brain games and solving puzzles, reading, and gardening are some examples of activities that help to keep your mind active.
Summing up, it is important to keep yourself and your mind agile. Other than that, keep an eye open for any early signs of dementia that may show up as you age. It may be hard to separate aging signs from early telltale indicators of the degenerative disorder.
However, it is not impossible to tell if you observe carefully. Get a diagnosis as soon as you note anything to avoid complications.