Could it be dementia?

Normal aging vs. a reason to worry

The signs of a normally aging brain, and the signs of a more serious condition, are subtle but there are ways to tell the difference explains Sharon Brangman, MD, the director of University Geriatricians at Upstate and a national expert in care for elders.

Brangman compares the normally aging brain to a computer with a full hard drive. “There might be some difficulty processing, or it might take longer to retrieve the data, but the information is there.

“We might worry if we misplace our glasses or keys, but if we can retrace our steps and find the item, that’s normal. If someone can’t retrace steps or finds the item in an odd place, that could be a cause for concern,” she says.

Other early warning signs of dementia loss include short-term memory loss, such as forgetting appointments or showing up at the wrong place and time. Difficulty with decision-making can cause changes in the person’s regular mood. An affected person could become irritable as solving problems becomes too complex, or he or she could become withdrawn and defer to others to make decisions.

“Personality changes can be subtle, and may be blamed on fatigue, but if it is dementia, the symptoms will persist and worsen over time,” Brangman explains.

Dementia is the general term for brain disease affecting mental function that gets worse over time, but Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form and the terms are often interchanged. 

And the mere act of aging presents it’s own risk. “Every day, 10,000 people turn 65,” she adds. “If someone reaches 85, they have a 50-50 chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.” As other conditions can affect memory loss, a medical assessment is needed to determine the cause.

Dr. Brangman and her colleagues offer services for seniors that include memory assessments. "Anyone who has memory concerns  can be evaluated," she adds. "Even if they are in their 50's or 60's." As factors related to memory loss are often observed by others, family members also can make appointments on behalf of the affected adult. University Geriatricians are seeing new patients and are located at Upstate Specialty Services, 550 Harrison Street in Syracuse. The new patient phone line is (315) 464- 5166 or questions can be directed to the WHN phone line: at 315-464-2756 or toll-free at 855-890-UWHN.