Although symptoms of dementia in seniors can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, the most common type of dementia diagnosed in people over the age of 65 is Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia by itself is not one specific disease but a constellation or “syndrome” of symptoms that constitute impaired brain functioning. Attention, memory, problem-solving skills and language are the primary areas affected, with deficits in motor skills such as walking, speaking and bladder control developing in the later stages of dementia.
You should have experienced signs of dementia consistently for at least six months before a doctor will offer a diagnosis of dementia. When cognitive impairment occurs rapidly but only lasts for a short time, a form of delirium may be producing dementia-like symptoms caused by other medical conditions that are usually irreversible.
Cognitive Aging vs. Symptoms of Dementia in Seniors
Cognitive aging described normal changes in cognition that are ascribed to the aging process rather than to a specific medical condition such as Alzheimer’s. Most people in their middle to late 40s usually begin noticing very mild deficits regarding the ability to retain information, slower reaction times to external stimuli or taking longer to perform complicated mental tasks.
Physicians expect a normal amount of cognitive decline to occur as a person ages due to changes in hormone levels and brain volume. Although there are several theories floating around that might explain why we age, no one knows for sure what causes healthy cells to start dying. One thing that doctors know for sure is that all areas of the human body start to weaken and deteriorate sometime in our 20s and the brain is no exception.
Minor memory problems that cause little disruption in our daily lives are a normal part of aging. However, this type of age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) is not similar to the short-term memory loss, disorientation, loss of visuospatial abilities and lack of judgment found in Alzheimer’s patients.
Another component of aging that involves loss of executive functioning but is not related to Alzheimer’s dementia is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition indicating that you are experiencing memory problems bad enough to be categorized between mild dementia and AAMI. A diagnosis of MCI means that although you may be forgetful and have trouble remembering names and words, you are still able to live independently and perform daily activities. Moreover, you do not exhibit the extreme behavioral or mood changes seen in someone with Alzheimer’s.
Common early signs of senior age dementia symptoms include:
- Repeatedly asking the same question or saying the same thing over and over again
- Forgetting how to perform everyday tasks, such as cooking a roast, playing a card game or making coffee
- Inability to balance a checkbook or paying bills in a timely manner
- Misplacing several objects each day, especially items that are frequently used
- Getting lost in familiar places, such as a grocery or department store
- Insisting that they have taken a bath and are wearing clean clothes when family members know they have not bathed or changed clothes in several days
- Instead of answering questions or handling problems, the person starts to rely on a spouse to make all the decisions
- Using the wrong words when trying to identify an item, place or event because they cannot remember the correct word
- Gullibility increases, making someone with dementia an easy target for scam artists
- Apathy and passivity also increases, in addition to moments of anxiety, irritability and aggression. The person may become defensive when confronted with evidence of worsening memory and blame other people for the problem.
When symptoms of dementia in seniors continue for several months and appear to worsen without abatement, you should make sure the person affected by this kind of cognitive impairment receive a full physical and mental evaluation by a professional in order to begin treatment for whatever is causing the dementia.
Conditions that May Imitate Dementia
Elderly people often get depressed as they grow older and experience the death of a spouse, family member or suffer health and/or financial losses. Symptoms of dementia in seniors such as memory loss, apathy, confusion and neglecting personal hygiene are also classic symptoms of depression. Well-meaning family members may misconstrue these overlapping symptoms for dementia instead of depression, which may cause the individual to receive the wrong treatment.
If someone you know is suffering more from behavioral or emotional problems rather than memory and confusion they may have a form of dementia called frontotemporal dementia. Instead of damaging memory areas of the brain, this dementia attacks brain regions controlling emotional responses and impulse control. Symptoms of dementia in seniors with frontotemporal dementia include:
- Insensitivity to other people’s feelings
- Inappropriate social behavior (extreme rudeness, making sexually suggestive statements or gestures in public)
- Total lack of interest in personal hygiene
- Personality reversal–someone who was previously introverted may begin acting loud, abrasive and talkative
Medical conditions that may cause dementia symptoms that are reversible when treated promptly are dehydration, certain prescription medications and vitamin deficiencies.
Regardless of what you think might be the medical reason behind symptoms of dementia in seniors, taking quick action when memory problems become more than a nuisance by visiting your doctor for a thorough check-up is the best way to effectively reduce the progressiveness of dementia.