Dementia: More than just Memory Loss

By Robyn Geller

Woman looking through old photographs

Where did I leave my keys?
I went downstairs to get something but now I can’t remember what I was looking for.
I was just about to tell you a story when it went right out of my mind.

Memory is one of those things we don’t think too much about until it stops operating the way we expect it should.   When we or people we love begin exhibiting memory loss, the subject quickly turns to dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, while Alzheimer’s represents 60 – 80 percent of dementia cases, there are 14 other types of dementia.

So not all dementia is Alzheimer’s, and memory loss by itself does not always mean dementia.  It turns out there are symptoms of dementia that aren’t necessarily related to memory.  People sometimes ignore them or assume they are part of normal aging process, but they are not.

As Dr. Nicole Absar explained during a JCS program on memory loss at the Edward A. Myerberg Center, dementia can present very differently from patient to patient.  She says that 2016 Neurology tells us that people are getting diagnosed too late because they don’t have memory problems.  They may be displaying symptoms or acting differently, but nothing seems serious enough to raise a red flag.  When individuals and families wait for signs of memory loss, it’s often months or years later and the disease has progressed way too far.

Early presentations of cognitive disorder involves more than memory loss, according to Dr. Absar.  Here are some signs she and her colleagues at Maryland’s Copper Ridge Memory Clinic look for.

Executive Functioning – This involves trouble with daily activities like managing money, solving problems or making decisions.  Sometimes people with this problem will sit around all day and do nothing because they can’t make decisions about brushing their teeth, taking a shower or going to the store.

Visuo-spatial Functioning – Patients who develop this disconnect between the eyes and the brain will start to fall, even in places that seem relatively flat or safe.  Sometimes drivers who are quite familiar with the neighborhood find themselves getting lost more often.  Also causes problems for some with activities of daily living like bathing, cooking and dressing.

Language Deficiency Word retention becomes increasingly difficult , forming sentences and making conversation more laborious, and sometimes patients stop talking all together.

Visual Recognition – Familiar faces aren’t so familiar anymore.  Often there’s a struggle with recognizing familiar objects.

Personality/Behavior Change – Sometimes changes are subtle, but other times the new behavior can be bizarre or over the top.

Delusions – People begin to imagine all kinds of things, and, in some cases, think those they know very well aren’t who they say they are.  Disturbing changes in REM sleep.

Some of the symptoms can be tricky and hard to distinguish from the normal aging process.  So the experts say to err on the side of caution.  Better to be safe than sorry.   If you notice any changes in yourself or an aging loved one, make sure to get it checked right away.   The longer you wait, the worse it can get.

Robyn GellerBy Robyn Geller, JCS Public Relations Coordinator

JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland.  We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.

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