Changes in a Senior: Alzheimer’s, Normal Aging, or Something Else?

If you are an adult child who is starting to notice changes in an aging parent’s mental or physical well-being, you may find yourself wondering if something is wrong. Are they just a result of the normal aging process or are these changes something more serious, like Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia? 

While there are classic signs of Alzheimer’s that many people are familiar with, such as forgetfulness or confusion, there are also other medical conditions that closely mimic the disease. Let’s talk about the signs of dementia, age-related changes, and other health concerns that can share symptoms with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, here are some early warning signs of the disease:

  • Memory loss that interrupts daily life
  • Problems maintaining a conversation 
  • Getting confused about day or time
  • Losing belongings around the home
  • Change in disposition
  • Experiencing bouts of paranoia
  • Falling victim to fraud or scams
  • Loss of attention span
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Making mistakes with bill paying or finances
  • Giving large sums of money away
  • Withdrawing from favorite pastimes
  • Loss of problem-solving and planning skills
  • Missing personal appointments and family events
  • Unintended weight gain or loss

While some of these may be age-related changes, especially if the senior is going through a stressful time, exhibiting more than a few of these behaviors is something that should be shared with their primary care physician. The doctor will likely conduct a physical exam and further testing to evaluate the presence of dementia or another health condition that may be reversible.

Medical Conditions Sometimes Mistaken for Alzheimer’s

One challenge doctors face in determining what is wrong is the lack of a definitive diagnose for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, they must rule out other possibilities:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Undiagnosed infection in the body
  • Adverse reaction to medication
  • Thyroid disease 
  • Depression 
  • Dehydration
  • Vitamin deficiency (i.e., vitamin B-12)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes or blood sugar issues

Most of the conditions outlined above are reversible with early intervention.

If the physician rules out other potential causes of the problematic symptoms, the next step might be to refer the patient to a neurologist for additional follow up. The neurologist will likely order brain imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an MRI, or a PET scan. While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are some prescription medications and lifestyle changes that may aid in slowing the progression.

Get Help Exploring Memory Care Communities

If your senior loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, they may benefit from a memory care community. These are designed to empower adults with memory impairment to live meaningful days in a secure environment. The team at A Rae of Hope can help you learn more about local memory care communities, and find one that is the best fit for your loved one. Our services and support are always free for seniors and their families. Contact us today to learn more!

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