Beyond a medical diagnosis of disease, the aches and pains of growing old can be worrisome. But the growing numbers of patients who have actually been diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, can cause concern among America’s aging population at large.
Most of the time, forgetfulness is just that: forgetfulness. In fact, neuroscientist and author Daniel J. Levitin points out that we’ve got a lot more to think about with each passing year.
Levitin puts it this way: “Older adults have to search through more memories than do younger adults to find the fact or piece of information they’re looking for. Your brain becomes crowded with memories and information. It’s not that you can’t remember — you can — it’s just that there is so much more information to sort through. A 2014 study found that this ‘crowdedness’ effect also shows up in computer simulations of human memory systems.”
The German physician Alois Alzheimer was the first scientist to describe the disease that bears his name in 1906. But it wasn’t until the ‘70s and ‘80s that Alzheimer’s began to be recognized as something of a scourge.
Indeed, nearly six million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and, as the Alzheimer’s Association predicts, that number is poised rise to some 14 million over the next three decades.
The question is; when is a lapse of memory just part of life and when is it a sign of the impending onset of Alzheimer’s disease? According to the National Institute on Aging, “Forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. As people get older, changes occur in all parts of the body, including the brain. As a result, some people may notice that it takes longer to learn new things, they don’t remember information as well as they did, or they lose things like their glasses. These usually are signs of mild forgetfulness, not serious memory problems, like Alzheimer’s disease.”
But the Alzheimer’s Association says that if your forgetfulness is disrupting your life, it may be time to see a doctor. In an online paper entitled, 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s, the association describes the differences between forgetfulness and disease.
The paper explains that age-related lapses include: making occasional errors when managing finances or household bills; sometimes forgetting names or appointments but remembering them later; occasionally needing help to use microwave settings or to record a TV show; getting confused about the day of the week but figuring it out later. Also, sometimes having trouble finding the right word; misplacing things from time to time and retracing steps to find them; making a bad decision or mistake once in a while, like neglecting to change the oil in the car; sometimes feeling uninterested in family or social obligations; developing very specific ways of doing things and becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted.
The Alzheimer’s paper suggests that signs of the disease as we grow older include: memory loss that disrupts daily life; challenges in planning or solving problems; difficulty completing familiar tasks; confusion with time or place; trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships; new problems with words in speaking or writing; misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps; decreased or poor judgment; withdrawal from work or social activities; and changes in mood and personality.
Dan Weber is President of The Association of Mature American Citizens (https://www.amac.us), a senior advocacy organization that takes its marching orders from its members. They act and speak on members’ behalf, protecting their interests and offering a practical insight on how to best solve the problems they face today.