What is the difference between Alzheimer's and typical age-related changes?
Your body undergoes many changes with age, and the gradual decline of mental and physical functions is expected. Typical age-related changes usually do not interfere with the ability to live independently. Dementia is the term for a group of symptoms that occur when diseases damage the brain. The condition involves the impairment of memory and other cognitive functions, which interfere with daily activities.
Signs of normal ageing
The first signs of ageing can start to appear when you turn 30. The ageing process affects the body in multiple systems such as
Heart and blood vessels
Ageing causes the heart to enlarge slightly, developing thicker walls and slightly larger chambers. Additionally, stiffening of the heart walls and large arteries due to loss of elastic tissue leads to increased blood pressure.
Ageing bone has altered structure. Reduced mineral content and bone density is making the bones weak and, therefore, more likely to break. A sedentary lifestyle further increases the risk of bone injury.
Involuntary muscle mass loss called sarcopenia is one of the most striking effects of older age. Muscle wasting is a natural part of ageing partly related to hormonal changes occurring in the elderly. Muscle disorder is associated with increased risks of falls and fractures.
Loss of peripheral vision is also a common age-related change. The decline in visual functions is related to the anatomical changes of the eyeball, such as hardening and clouding of the lens.
The ageing brain, which is not affected by dementia, undergoes structural changes. Shrinkage occurs in the areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, planning, and other complex mental activities. There are also changes in the communication between the nerve cells. Older adults may have impaired memory and learning skills comparing to younger individuals, but their cognitive areas, such as vocabulary, might be better. It's normal sometimes to forget most recent events or take time to recall them.
So how normal ageing differs from dementia?
Signs of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease is a fatal disorder that results in brain cells and function loss. The condition involves a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills to a degree where these impairments affect social or professional life. So what is not a part of normal ageing?
Memory loss that interferes with everyday life
Occasional forgetting dates or names are normal, but asking for the same information over and over is the most common sign of dementia. Dementia patients often rely on reminder notes or electronic devices) or family members to remember how to complete everyday tasks. They also might struggle to remember the names of items or even close family members.
Confusion with time and place
Older adults sometimes forget what day it is, but remembering it later is completely normal. A worrying sign of Alzheimer's disease is losing track of the passage of time and not being able to tell what season or year it is. Sometimes, dementia patients have troubles remembering where they are and how they got there.
Mood and personality changes are common cognitive symptoms in people with dementia. The condition might cause confusion, apathy and anxiety, which results in withdrawal from social life and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. People living with dementia might be easily upset when they leave their comfort zone.
Trouble with words
Those living with Alzheimer's disease might struggle to engage or follow along with a conversation or TV programme. Sometimes they might have trouble remembering the vocabulary and finding the right words or calling things by the wrong name.
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