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September 17, 2018

Regular aging or Alzheimer’s?

By Dr. Atul Sunny Luthra, Geriatric Psychiatry Outreach & Behavioural Health, St. Peter’s Hospital 

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia that affects brain cells and, as a result, causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. It eventually affects all aspects of life. Since each person is affected differently, it’s difficult to predict when the symptoms will appear, in what order or how quickly they’ll progress.

There are 10 common warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease. It’s important to understand how these signs appear in someone with Alzheimer’s disease compared to normal aging. Some of these differences are outlined below. If you notice any of these warning signs or have any questions about dementia, please speak with your doctor.

1. Memory loss affecting day-to-day function

Normal aging: Forgetting things often, but it does not affect day-to-day function, i.e. forgetting where you’ve put your keys.
Alzheimer’s disease: Forgetting and not remembering how to do daily activities, i.e. not knowing how to use the washing machine so you don’t wash your clothes.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Normal aging: Having to follow the recipe of your favourite meal, as you can no longer make it from memory.
Alzheimer’s disease: No longer knowing how to do something you’ve been doing your whole life, such as getting dressed.

3. Problems with language

Normal aging: Forgetting the word you were trying to use.
Alzheimer’s disease: Not realizing you’re using basic words in the wrong context.

4. Disorientation in time and space

Normal aging: Forgetting your way around the local shopping mall that you used to have memorized.
Alzheimer’s disease: Getting lost in the local shopping mall that you used to have memorized, as if you’ve never been in it before.

5. Impaired judgement

Normal aging: You may just forget that you need a sweater on a cold day, but then realize when you go outside that you need one.
Alzheimer’s disease: Going outside on a winter day in summer clothes and not recognizing that it’s too cold for what you’re wearing.

6. Problems with abstract thinking

Normal aging: You may just be a little slower at making a calculation on a calculator.
Alzheimer’s disease: Not understanding what numbers signify on a calculator or how they’re used.

7. Misplacing things

Normal aging: Retracing your steps to try to remember where you left what you’ve misplaced.
Alzheimer’s disease: Putting things in strange places and not recognizing that the item is even misplaced.

8. Changes in mood and behaviour

Normal aging: Recognizing and understanding that you’re having mood swings.
Alzheimer’s disease: Unknowingly exhibiting severe mood swings.

9. Changes in personality

Normal aging: This doesn’t occur unless there is an underlying issue.
Alzheimer’s disease: Behaving out of character such as feeling paranoid or threatened.

10. Loss of initiative

Normal aging: This doesn’t occur unless there is an underlying issue.
Alzheimer’s disease: Losing interest in friends, family and favourite activities without reason.