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Do I have Dementia or am I just getting old?

by Dr. Chris Prakash, MD

All the media attention that Alzheimer’s has received over the past few years has been a boon for research. But it has also caused fear and anxiety among people. Many people with the normal changes of aging become frightened and diagnose themselves with dementia.

Dr. Chris Prakash, eParisExtra columnist
Dr. Chris Prakash, eParisExtra columnist

What is Dementia?

Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a term that describes symptoms associated with a decline in memory that is severe enough to affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the cases.

Memory loss is common as we age. Approximately 40% of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss. However, it is important to know that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias are not a part of normal aging. When there is no underlying medical condition causing the memory loss, it is known as “Age-Associated Memory Impairment”, which is considered a part of the normal aging process.

It’s important to distinguish between what’s normal when it comes to memory loss and when you should be concerned. Age-Associated Memory Impairment can be distinguished from Alzheimer’s in a variety of ways.
What are the symptoms of Normal Aging (and how to differentiate from Dementia)?

  • It may be a normal part of aging to not be able to remember small details of a conversation or event that took place a year ago (but it may be dementia if you are not able to recall details of a recent conversation or cannot remember a recent event).
  • It may be normal aging if you are not able to remember the name of an acquaintance (but it may be dementia if you forget the name of a close family member or don’t recognize them).
  • It may be normal aging if you forget things or misplace things occasionally (but it may be dementia if this happens more frequently or with regularity).
  • It is normal if you occasionally have difficulty finding the right words to complete a sentence (but it may be dementia if there are frequent pauses and substitutions).
  • It is probably a part of normal aging if you are worried about your memory but your family is not (but it may very well be dementia if your family is worried about your memory but you are not aware of any such problems).
  • You may have dementia if you get lost even in familiar places and are unable to follow directions.
  • Normal Memory Loss usually results in attention deficit, slow thinking and problem with organization. Alzheimer’s not only causes memory loss and dementia, but also leads to difficulty with language, change in personality and difficulty in time and space perception. It may cause poor judgment and withdrawal. In late stages, Alzheimer’s can lead to inability to walk, seizures and loss of bladder and bowel control.

If you have any concerns about your memory, talk to your family doctor. He or she may be able to diagnose you correctly and advise further measures.

Ways to prevent memory loss

According to The American Academy of Neurology, the following practices may contribute to healthy memory:

  • Exercise – Regular exercise boosts brain cell growth and encourages the development of new brain cells. It also helps manage stress and leads to a healthier brain.
  • Social AnimalIt has been shown that people who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who do. Being with other people will help keep you mentally sharp.
  • Healthy Diet – Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as these foods contain antioxidants. Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as fish and nuts) are particularly good for your brain and memory. Eating too many calories or Trans fats, though, can increase your risk of developing memory loss.
  • Stress Reduction - Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. Stress and anxiety can cause memory difficulties and trouble with learning and concentrating.
  • Sleep - Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so you can retrieve them later.
  • Don’t smoke – Smoking increases the risk of vascular disorders that can cause stroke and reduce delivery of oxygen to the brain.

This information is strictly an opinion of Dr Prakash, and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Dr Chris Prakash is a contributing columnist, and author of eParisExtra’s “The Doctor is In” column. He is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology Paris. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Oncology and Hematology. He lives in Paris, TX with his wife and two children, and can be reached at 9037850031, or Sucharu.prakash@usoncology.com

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