Normal signs of aging or is it dementia?
You might have heard your aging parent joke about having a “senior moment.” Perhaps it involved getting lost while driving, forgetting an appointment, or using the wrong word in conversation. As harmless as it seems, ask yourself this: Are these episodes becoming more frequent or serious? If so, be on the lookout for signs of dementia.
“Problems or changes with short-term memory, physical abilities, or personality traits that impact daily life can be warning signs of dementia,” says Jason Graff, M.D. , geriatrician with The Christ Hospital’s Center for Health and Aging. Here are a few ways to distinguish between normal signs of aging and dementia:
-Forgetting to pay a monthly bill
-Trouble finding the right word
-Getting irritable when routines change
-Occasionally forgetting someone’s name
-Being unable to manage a monthly budget
-Trouble speaking, writing or joining conversation
-Becoming fearful, suspicious or anxious in familiar situations
-Asking for the same information over and over
Many faces of dementia
Although the mental changes taking place in your loved one might be obvious, you may not know there’s more than one form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease  is the most common, affecting more than 5.4 million Americans. Here, plaque (a protein build-up between nerve cells) and tangles (twisted protein fibers that form inside the dying nerve cells) may play a role in the development of Alzheimer's dementia. Advancing age, family history of the disease and vascular disease are the strongest risk factors for Alzheimer’s.
Adults with a history of diabetes, stroke or heart attack can also suffer from vascular dementia . Other common types include Lewy body dementia , which forms when proteins bind to and impair the brain’s nerve cells, and mixed dementia , where Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia occur at the same time.
Tips to delay progression
Although these forms of dementia cannot be cured, you can develop real-life strategies  to help a loved one cope and slow its progression.
- Create a social circle. Whether you, a family member, or an outside caregiver takes the initiative, make sure the person has planned activities, exercise and social interactions every day. “Isolation throughout the day and living alone can be detrimental for a patient with this disease,” Dr. Graff says. “Not only can it lead to depression, malnutrition, weakness and falls, isolation can actually speed the process of the disease.”
- Start a brain and body fitness routine. Exercise has been shown to improve brain function and improve or prevent depression. Thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, weight training, walking or yoga, three to five times per week, is a good guideline. Also, incorporate simple puzzles , board games or computer activities and possibly follow sports statistics, current events or stock market trends as examples of added activities to one's daily routine.
- Evaluate their home safety. Monitor your loved one’s living situation or ask someone you trust to do so. Rugs, low lighting, stairs and complicated handles or appliances are health risks that could further frustrate, confuse or injure the person. Learn how to create a safe living environment here .
- Work with a geriatrician. The Christ Hospital’s Center for Health and Aging is one of Cincinnati’s only medical practices specializing in comprehensive geriatric assessment and primary care. “A major portion of our practice focuses on providing care to those with dementia,” Dr. Graff says. “We can frequently provide family counseling on home safety and behavior management strategies; types of living arrangements; medication assessment and management; healthcare and financial power of attorney planning; and nutrition services.”
Find patient and caregiver support services at The Christ Hospital’s Center for Health and Aging by calling 513-272-8444 or visit www.TheChristHospital.com/HealthandAging .