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As dementia becomes more prevalent in our society, we all become more familiar with the signs of the disease.  As we age, we naturally start to question our own cognitive health, particularly when we start to forget things.

You forgot the car keys, or you get to the store and forget what item you came to purchase.  When does forgetting cross over from a normal part of life to a sign of early stage dementia?

Here are five ways to view normal, age-related memory changes versus signs of impaired cognitive health.

  • Do reminders work? We all forget names and dates.  However, does a simple reminder successfully remedy the situation?  If being prompted by facts remedies the memory lapse, then your forgetfulness is probably part of the normal aging process.
  • Is there a repetition of forgetfulness? If you have been reminded of someone’s name and the next time you need it, the name comes back to you, then your brain is likely still functioning normally. If numerous reminders don’t help you recall things, then this can be a sign of dementia.
  • Is there a stable personality? Memory aside, normal aging is generally accompanied by a stable and recognizable personality.  If you’ve always had a quick temper or always stayed calm, it is likely you will continue to do so.  If there are changes in personality – aggressive anger in someone who is historically calm – coupled with the aforementioned signs, this can be a sign of dementia.
  • Are habits and tasks performed? You’ve spent your life performing daily tasks and meeting your basic needs – dressing, paying bills, etc.  If you are still handling these issues, then you are likely aging normally.  If these simple missions have become impossible, this can be a sign of dementia.
  • What is your reaction to stress or fatigue? It is common to struggle with memory when you are highly stressed or fatigued.  However, we generally do not forget that information that is deeply ingrained in us.  If stress and fatigue trigger out-of-proportion loss of familiar information this could be a sign of dementia.

Dementia is more than just memory loss. It is a loss of function.  If you have concern about your cognitive health, please make an appointment to be screened for cognitive impairment.  Your primary physician is a good place to start.