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Example--when recall ability turns into the fact that the elder no longer remembers what the strange-looking keyring is (for an auto), Alzheimer's has set in.
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My husband is going to be 85 in January and has Dimentia and Parkinsonism....his short term memory is shot but along with everything going on he makes these weird sound; I cannot imitate them; almost like a bird call....it goes on all day long when he is reading, eating, watching tv.....my sister said she would have to wear earmuffs to cover the sounds......i try to ignore it but sometimes you just want to say, will you just stop doing that; it is driving me nuts!!!! but the doctor said it is from Dimentia....I cannot take him to a restaurant any longer or even a movie theater; who wants to hear , will you just please keep quiet....I asked the doctor if there was any medication to stop this and he said no, it is from his brain function decline......so I guess I will have to buy ear muffs......but that might be a hoot, because we live in South Florida.....As a wife 12 years younger and his sole caretaker my hair is getting grey very quickly; I am exhausted and have very little help.....calgon take me away.....but as his wife, I have a full time job caring for my hubby who I love very much and will do my best to make him feel comfortable and loved even though he barely says two words the entire day; just makes moaning sounds............I wish I could turn the clocks back...
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I have thought this same question myself many times but, it has been officially diagnosed for Mom @6 yrs ago...it's tough and causes me to ponder often...I keep a diary of monthly changes in Mom so it's easy to see the changes...and gives the drs a timeline of how things are progressing instead of guessing. It also prepares me for Mom's future care so i am ready for the new changes as they happen....to me, age-related memory loss is kinda cute because it's just a delayed memory reaction; alzheimers/dementia isn't cute because it's permanent and going to get a whole lot worse...
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There is a short test, maybe 10 minutes, it's verbal and it is used as a determination for Dementia vs Age Related Memory Loss.

Every year, my DH goes in and the nurse does the verbal test. Out of 30 points, DH got 25 which I was told is extraordinary for 96 years old.

You can google it but briefly it was explained as, "can the person work through problems to come to a solution." It used to include drawing a clock and then a time but in today's digital world, they had to stop using it as most people have digital clocks instead of analog clocks. 

If it is thought to be Dementia, they send the person to a Neurologist for further testing. My Dad had "early onset Alzheimer's" when he was 83. DH still is age related memory loss. HOWEVER, either one can still have "sundowners" and DH does have that.

Hell, I was only in my 50's when I put the ice cream in the cupboard. Yes, I realized what I did and moved it to the freezer. But if you have several things going in your mind at the time, it's really easy to make a mistake.

P.S.  Alzheimer's is still Dementia.
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We all have age-related memory loss. It is normal. But what is interesting to me is the difference between the various types of dementia and Alzheimer. Here is how I understand this difference from my non-professional experience:

Dementia is when you lose short term memory or the ability to recall recent events. Alzheimer is when you change the reality you live in, when you have delusions or non-factual information about what is happening, also called Sundowners.

My Mom has vascular dementia and ALZ.

Some Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons she thinks that she is volunteering at the hospital (she used to for many years) and that I am downstairs waiting to take her home. She wants to take the elevator as she says I am waiting in my car for her. She is in a secured floor. When she is not allowed down the elevator she gets very adamant, anxious and pushy with all the staff because they do not let her go downstairs to get her ride home. She loudly stands up for her rights to go downstairs to meet me. This happens due to her ALZ. Once she calms down (usually they call me to talk her down by phone), she quickly forgets what has happened and refuses to believe that she could even be angry with the staff ("They are such nice people. I could never be angry with them.") This is her short term memory, dementia, erasing what had just happened.

Various nights she calls me very upset asking me why I rented my room to strangers. (We used to live together, now she shares a room with another patient whose family comes to visit sometimes at night.) She insists that I should have told her that I had rented my room and then begins to tell me that if I need money I should have told her! She gets scared and mad about the strangers in 'my' room. She wants me to come home to my own bed and throw those people out! This is ALZ. I call her back after 5 minutes to check in on her, pretending I just want to say good night....now she has no clue about what had just happened and refuses to accept that she had called me a few moments ago. Short term memory.

In a way, she is blessed to have both ALZ and vascular dementia as one lets her be truly calm once she forgets her confused reality. There are other patients on her floor which have ALZ only who cannot get out of the loop of delusions easily and thus continue to loop in that believed and frustrating reality.

As much as these situations are very difficult to have to witness in a loved one, I can't help to marvel at the mechanics of the affected mind. Little by little, I am learning how best to connect with and support Mom during these times. As many of you know, it is not easy to do and can easily hurt our hearts.

I send all of you in these situations (me included), many blessings and doses of courage, patience and love.
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les40uk, I have recently started down the same road as you. And AmberA, your story is much like mine. Is anyone experiencing problems finding words? I find myself having to either replace a word I want with another in the middle of a sentence or not finishing the sentence at all because I cannot recall the word I want to use. Beginnings of dementia or Alzheimers? I notice my husband sometimes uses the completely wrong word. And my mom, well she's 91 and I have been filling in her sentences for years.
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If you forget where you put your keys, that could be aging. If you forget what keys are for, that is not normal aging!

While all the various kinds of dementia involve memory loss, that is never the only cognitive decline with dementia, and loss of memory plays a larger role in some kinds of dementia than in others. I know we call care for the cognitively impaired "memory care" but that really misrepresents what is involved. There can be loss of depth perception, loss of the sense of smell, inability to sequence the steps of a familiar procedure, believing two contradictory things are both true, hallucinations, delusions, lack of the sense of time passing ... I could go on and on, just from personal observation.

If all you are seeing is forgetfulness I wouldn't jump to the conclusion of "dementia." When other symptoms join the memory problems then it might be time to get a professional opinion.
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Sorry, my answer should have been directed to les40UK. My apologies, freqflyer!
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freqflyer,

Your topic is one I revisit on a daily basis: mild cognitive impairment or early dementia?

Our family first began noticing lapses in Mom's judgment as long as 7-8 years ago, followed by losing things a lot, paranoia, forgetting much of our last conversations, repeating herself, asking the same questions over and over. It was hard for her to accept her vascular dementia/Alzheimer's diagnosis in December 2016, 7-8 years after her symptoms began. Early on in her disease process, Mom was conscious of some of her deficits, (though not all) and didn't like to admit to them. Family attributed most of it to normal aging until about 3 years ago, when all the symptoms took a major nosedive, particularly the paranoia, social withdrawal, etc. She'd have good days and bad days, but we knew something more sinister was going on than just "normal-aging forgetfulness." If forced to put a time frame on it, she seemed within the "normal age-related memory loss" for about 5 years, followed by what appears to be early-stage dementia.

Now, recent MoCA testing suggests mid-dementia; yet she can still dress, bathe and feed herself, though she doesn't always recognize when soiled clothing needs to be laundered and sometimes "misses" holes and tears in clothing and wears it anyway unless someone prompts her to do otherwise, which BTW infuriates her. Executive functioning is certainly skewed, and social filters are frequently absent. Memory is poor. She mixes up the content of past visits and phone calls, doesn't remember what she had for breakfast, constructs her own realities out of bits and pieces of memories seasoned by heavy doses of confabulation. Anger management is a definite problem.

Now she has anosognosia, a complete unawareness of her deficits. This has been going on for 4-5 months. If asked, she will say I (her daughter) is the one with the problem, not her. I just go along with it, saying my memory isn't what it used to be. I was never good with names or sequences, but like you mentioned, I can no longer remember celebrities' names very well. Technical, procedural information, if not used, is no longer at my fingertips. Sometimes I can retrieve it; all to often I can't.

I asked my doctor about it. She suggested the stress of dealing with my Mom could be the culprit. I don't know. It certainly could be. I am in my mid-sixties, POA for my 91-year-old mom who's unrecognizable as such. In bad moments I call her the momster.

I lose stuff frequently; particularly keys, phone chargers, and eyeglasses. So does my husband,10 years my senior. One thing we haven't done (yet) is put keys in the refrigerator! When that starts to happen I'll ask my primary for a mini-mental exam and we'll take it from there, even though I know you can score high on a MMSE and still have dementia.

It's not very reassuring, especially in light of Mom's recent diagnosis. I had a DNA test done, and the APOE4 gene wasn't present, but still that's no guarantee of a "no dementia" diagnosis. Her father (my grandfather) had some kind of cognitive decline that was never to my knowledge diagnosed. By 80 he was wandering, accusing my poor grandma of infidelity, with alternating episodes of confusion and relative clarity.

My objective is to live life now to the fullest. Expect the best and prepare for the worst. If someday my brain begins to rot from the inside out, I hope to have my affairs in order and to have already down-scaled my possessions and living arrangements. By no means would I dream of putting my kids through what my parents put me and my sister through.
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I see from your profile that you say you are caring for soeone who has Dementia/Altzeimers. Is that an official diagnosis or just a guess on your part?
If it is a diagnosis it really does not matter what is causing the memory loss. Could be either or both.people with dementia age like anyone else and suffer similar problems.
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Long time ago I remembered reading that if a person realizes their memory is not as sharp, then it is just age related.

If a person doesn't realize they are forgetting things, it could be dementia/ Alzheimer's.

Such a putting items in areas where they don't belong. Common example is putting one's keys in the refrigerator.... that might happen one time, no biggee.... but if it happens on a regular basis there would be a concern.

My sig other, my boss, and I all have issues remember names of people from the past, especially movie/TV stars. Makes sense as we aren't using their names on a regular basis, so those names disappear into a back file drawer in our brain. Usually we can find the names on the Internet if the person was famous. Or it will pop in our head at midnight :P
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