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At some point in our lives, we all experienced forgetting something — where we put our car keys, forgetting something that we ought to do, or not being able to recall the name of the person we just met. When we are younger, we just tend to shrug our shoulders and consider this as normal. However, as we get older, we start to get worried and ask ourselves if we are getting dementia. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5.8 million older adults in the US are living with dementia. However, there are also more than 50 conditions that can mimic dementia. So, is your forgetfulness a part of normal aging? Or is it a sign of dementia?

Normal aging

As we get older, our body also undergoes several changes — physically and mentally. With this, we may forget which day it is, forget the correct direction, miss an important due date, forget the right term to use when talking or lose our things from time to time. However, we also mostly remember them after some time. Meaning, the memory lapses that we get to experience are short term and temporary.

Memory loss brought by normal aging can be caused by depression, Vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, alcoholism, dehydration, and side effects of the medication you are taking. These are treatable and can be reversed by maintaining a healthy diet and physical, mental, and social activities. 

Dementia

Dementia is a group of symptoms that happens when the brain and its memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform day to day activities are slowly deteriorating because of diseases. Despite its prevalence, dementia isn’t a normal part of aging. 

The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease which affects nearly 5 million Americans in 2014. It is a progressive disease where symptoms worsen over time and is believed to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain cells and surrounding it. 

Signs and symptoms of Dementia

The signs of dementia depend on the impact of the disease that triggers it and the personality of the patient. Unfortunately, the early stage of dementia is often overlooked since the symptoms are similar to other conditions. Symptoms that you need to watch out for include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Losing track of time
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Forgetting recent events and people’s names
  • Repeated loss of balance and falls
  • Behavioral changes
  • Changes in eating habits and hygiene
  • Comprehension and language ability problem
  • Increased apathy

As the condition progresses, the signs and symptoms are also becoming clearer. The late stage of dementia leaves an individual almost totally dependent and inability to perform tasks. 

When to see a doctor

Sadly, over 50% of individuals with memory loss have not visited a healthcare provider. Start being proactive. If you or a family member is experiencing problems with remembering things or recent events, or is showing potential signs and symptoms of dementia, talk with your doctor and discuss your concerns. Memory loss doesn’t necessarily mean you are having dementia, and talking to your doctor will help you properly diagnose and treat your condition. Your doctor can also suggest ways to maintain and take good care of your brain.