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Dementia or Old Age?

Dementia or Old Age?

Dementia is the medical term for forgetfulness which is a result of damaged nerve cells in the brain. So, when humans tend to get forgetful and fail to remember the important and routine things, is it because of dementia, or old age? This article will help you understand the relationship between the two, and more...
Shalu Bhatti
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Everyone tends to bless us with a happy and long life. Though all of us wish to live a happy life, there are certain changes that are accompanied by a long life, that we and those who live with us have to face during our 'old age'. Many renowned people have described old age as the 'second childhood' wherein the physical and mental abilities of a person tend to decrease gradually, resulting in a 'childlike' behavior. One of these behavioral changes include the ability to remember things. During old age people tend to forget things, things that have been a part of their life on a daily basis.
My grandma also forgot things..., a lot of things! I was very young when she passed away, but my aunt always tells me stories about her. She told me that once my grandma was praying, and my aunt was standing next to her. And suddenly when she wanted to mention my aunt's name in her prayer, she came closer to my aunt and asked, "What is your name...?" My aunt was my grandma's favorite child, and she forgot her name...! Was this the effect of old age, or was she suffering from dementia? What was the reason behind her forgetfulness; dementia, or simply old age?
Is it Dementia or Just 'Old Age'?
We all know what is old age, but what exactly is dementia? Well, dementia is not a disease in particular, it is rather a symptom of a medical condition, such as the Alzheimer's Disease (AD)! Usually people refer to dementia as a memory loss caused by death of the nerve cells present in the brain. However, that is not the case. Yes, dementia does cause memory loss, but it also causes other complications in the brain including impaired judgment, lack of coordination, hallucinations and paranoia.
There are different types of dementia that exist. These include AD, Parkinson's dementia, alcoholic dementia, vascular dementia, senile dementia and so on. While all these types of dementia do not necessarily occur during old age, but then the dementia that is progressive in nature, like the one caused by AD, can make the symptoms worse during old age. For people who have never been diagnosed with dementia, the condition becomes extremely severe in the later years of life.
So, what leads to dementia in the old age? Well, there are many factors contributing to the forgetfulness in the old age (which can also be 'undiagnosed dementia', like I assume was the case with my grandmother). These factors include the health conditions that cause dementia. It could be HIV/AIDS, AD, Parkinson's disease, vascular problems, immune disorders and so on. Also people who have been involved in a lot of smoking and alcohol, tend to suffer from dementia.
Some experts also believe that lesser quality oriented interaction with people leads to dementia in the old age. I mean we all know how it goes. Old age makes the person socially less active, may be because everyone else gets too busy...! I think this was the case with my grandmother. Nobody actually gave her quality time and spoke to her the way she wanted, everyone just got too busy. And because she wasn't aware of what was happening around, she couldn't speak much. This made her sort of live in her own shell, thereby causing memory impairment, and that too, to a point where she forgot her daughter's name itself!
Most people mistake the memory impairment and 'weird behavior' as old age. If you have an old family member in your house who gets angry at little things, tends to forget what you said to them, tends to behave like a child, doesn't eat properly, you might think that this behavior is the result of old age..., but have you ever cared to get that family member checked for dementia? Have you been too busy getting irritated about their anger, or why they can't understand or remember simple things?
You know what, it is not your irritation that they need, nor do they want to cause you trouble. They themselves are dealing with a lot of trouble right now. Imagine, if you get irritated because they cannot remember even the simplest of things, imagine how irritated would they get, because they don't have a clue of what's happening around!
Forgetfulness with age is not common. In fact, there are many people who have an active and alert mind even in their golden years. The secret lies in their daily lifestyle. Experts suggest that an active social life and a healthy diet is the key to an active mind. The elderly people tend to feel isolated, lonely, and depressed because of their lack of purpose in life. Show them that they are still an important part of your life. Sit with them, talk to them, keep them updated with what is happening around. Take them out for social events so that their mind is continually active.
Also, do not neglect professional help as a proper analysis and treatment can make a huge difference. They need your love and support. They need you to spend some 'quality time' with them. If you have an old family member who is likely to suffer from dementia, then this article on caregiver tips for dementia would prove to be of help. Understand, whether it is dementia, or old age, your support and understanding is the only requirement that can make things easier for both you and the elderly person in your family. Take care.