Is Dementia a Normal Part of Aging?
As our body ages, it undergoes several changes which are a normal part of the aging process. Elders experience some variations in their cognitive abilities. They include slowed thinking, inability to focus, snappy attention span and retaining information. Elders also find it hard to manage multiple tasks at once and are often at a loss of words.
Research has shown that the hippocampal, frontal and temporal lobes in the brain deteriorate with age. Since these regions are responsible for all thinking-related function, memory also suffers with age. Although the age factor plays a major role in cognitive functioning, it’s not normal for dementia to be part of the natural process.
Normal Aging vs. Dementia
Most normal outcomes of aging affect the speed and span of thinking but a healthy elder is not naturally bound to suffer from dementia. For instance, slowed responses and shorter attention spans are normal for elders but dementia isn’t. The healthy process of aging impacts thinking abilities very subtly so as to ease the individual into the changing state of the mind.
But abnormal aging impacts cognition much more severely. You may encounter problems like inability to navigate, solve ordinary problems, express something verbally, or forget rapidly. But dementia is a more aggravated version of memory loss because you may forget personal details like names or faces of family members. You may stutter while speaking because of a lost train of thought or lack of words. But most importantly a person suffering from dementia doesn’t recognize the problem themselves; only their caretakers do.
Abnormal Aging: Mild Cognitive Impairment vs. Dementia
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia are medical conditions that indicate that the damage is greater than expected. However, both–MCI and dementia–are at different stages on the spectrum from normalcy to dementia. MCI doesn’t affect the ability to carry out routine tasks like driving or cooking whereas dementia will disrupt everyday functioning of an aging adult. While these two terms only describe the severity of the problem, the causes are still undefined and various. Dementia can be a result of Alzheimer’s, Lewy body disease, vascular disease or frontotemporal degeneration.
- Changes in diet/eating habits
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Forgetfulness of recent events
- Imbalance causing trips and falls
- Personality changes
- Repetitive questioning/confusion
- Impaired planning and organizational skills
- Affected hygiene
- Odd or inappropriate behaviors
- Increased apathy
- Changes in language and ability to comprehend
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