By Lisa Marinelli Smith
Many of us jokingly chalk up a forgetful episode to having a “senior moment.”
It’s true that when we age, we forget things here and there. We may lose our phone or have trouble remembering a name or word.
Once in awhile, that’s understandable. However, when people consistently have cognitive or behavioral changes that interfere with daily life, they should schedule an appointment with their health care provider to look into whether they may be experiencing early stages of dementia.
What is dementia?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 8 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with dementia.
Experiencing memory loss alone doesn’t mean someone has dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term used when people experience:
- Language difficulties
- Memory loss
- Personality changes
- Problem-solving challenges
Why does dementia occur?
Dementia occurs when neurons (nerve cells) in the brain stop working, lose the ability to communicate with one another, and then gradually die. We all lose neurons as we age, but those with dementia experience a more significant loss.
Alzheimer’s disease is one type of dementia. Dementia can occur because of other neurodegenerative disorders, as well.
Dementia isn’t a normal part of aging. Aging can bring about slower processing speeds and difficulty multitasking, but routine memory, daily skills and knowledge often remain stable.
Warning signs of dementia
When the brain changes, people begin to show some of these early warning signs of dementia.
- Difficulty with spatial relationships – Trouble balancing and judging distance. Decreased ability to determine color and contrast, which can affect driving.
- Memory loss affecting daily life – Misplacing objects more than usual, feeling confused about time and place, forgetting where you are and why you went there.
- Poor judgment and personality changes – Poor money management, less attention to grooming and increased moodiness. The person may feel anxious, confused, fearful or suspicious.
- Problem-solving challenges – Difficulty completing familiar tasks, following directions or recipes and balancing a checkbook. People can begin to lose their sense of direction while driving.
- Uncertainty when speaking or writing – Repeat questions or statements, experience confusion when following a storyline, struggle with vocabulary and naming familiar objects.
Many of these traits occur in people of all ages from time to time. The difference with dementia is when these changes start to affect everyday lives.
EEGs and dementia
Doctors use various tests to diagnose dementia, including a physical exam, neurological exam, lab tests, and cognitive tests.
Brain imaging from MRIs and CT scans assist with the diagnosis.
Doctors may order an EEG to look for clinical signs of dementia. An EEG, short for electroencephalogram, measures electrical activity in the brain and gives doctors information about how the brain functions.