DIAGNOSIS 101: The difference between dementia and forgetfulness

The question: What is the
difference between dementia and “old-age forgetfulness”?

The expert: Amy Christensen is the restorative nurse coordinator at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Jaffrey. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and earned her Practical Nursing Certificate in 2006 at the age of 43.

Good Shepherd Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has started an Alzheimer’s caregiver support group. It is facilitated by Colleen Warren LPN and Amy Christensen LPN, both of whom were trained and certified through the Alzheimer’s Association to be facilitators.

Anyone caring for someone with dementia is invited to attend. Call 532-8763, for more information.

The answer: Memory loss is not a normal part of the aging process. As we age, physiological changes occur that slow us down. We should still be able to reason, use common sense and rely on the knowledge we have gained over a lifetime of experiences.

Dementia is progressive. There are many types of dementia, each with different affects. Difficulty with normal everyday tasks like washing, dressing and paying bills are some signs to look out for. Becoming disoriented in familiar places; acting inappropriately in social situations; maintaining a train of thought in conversation; repetition; using words that don’t make sense; inability to follow directions and having trouble making choices, are also possible signs of dementia.

Many people are very good at compensating in these areas so diagnosis may be delayed. If diagnosed early enough, medications and life changes may slow the disease’s progress.

It is important to know that there may be other factors affecting your memory that are reversible. Dehydration is a leading cause of confusion in the elderly; often a few glasses of water will clear the fog.

Medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid imbalances and alcohol consumption could be factors as well. And as always, taking care of your mind, body and spirit is essential.

Exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep and keeping the stress at manageable levels are key to clear thinking.

— Interview by Dave Anderson

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