Many people confused over what could be a sign of dementia, research shows

Confusion is one of the hallmarks of dementia, but many people are also confused about what symptoms are truly signs of a cognitive problem rather than part of the normal aging process. If you’ve forgotten where you put your keys yet again, or just arrived at the store only to realize you don’t remember what you needed to buy, here’s how to tell whether you should worry.

Normal Signs Of Aging

The Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center says that some cognitive decline is normal as we age. While our “crystallized intelligence” — which includes things we previously learned — stays intact, our “fluid intelligence” declines, causing us to have trouble doing things not based on our previous education or experience. Our long-term memory stays sharp, but we struggle with short-term memory, which is why we lose things more frequently.

Some declines in the ability to concentrate are also a normal part of aging. While most older people can pay attention to a single thing, like a movie or TV show, they struggle with tasks that require divided attention. They also remember the vocabulary they previously learned but sometimes have a little trouble getting the words out. They can still solve problems, but that ability slows down when the problem is an unfamiliar one. Cognitive processes also slow down; while they don’t actually decline, they take longer in older adults.

While these changes are all natural, certain factors may speed them up. These include developing age-related conditions like arthritis that cause distracting pain and taking certain medications with drowsiness and dullness as side effects. Hearing loss and issues like anxiety or depression also interfere with acquiring and processing new information.

Possible Signs Of Dementia

When does something like forgetfulness or problems with concentration potentially signal a deeper problem? The Alzheimer’s Society in London says that it’s a bad sign when your forgetfulness happens frequently enough to interfere with your daily life. For example, you may be in the early stages of dementia if you forget the names of friends you know or everyday objects, or if you can’t easily remember things you saw, heard or read recently, even though your recollection of the far past is clear. Forgetting your keys on the counter is fine, but you may have issues if you put them in odd spots, like the oven or refrigerator.

While emotions like depression, anxiety and anger can be a normal part of aging, they may also signal dementia. Another warning sign is getting lost on the way to a familiar destination or feeling confused even when you’re in a place that you know. Problems with thinking clearly or reasoning are red flags as well.

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have signs of dementia, talk to your doctor immediately. While there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive problems, some medications and lifestyle changes may slow them down or improve your quality of life. For example, according to WebPsychology, two classes of drugs are FDA approved to improve cognitive symptoms and other medications, like antidepressants, may help with some symptoms. Simple activities like exercising regularly or even listening to music may also help slow down cognitive declines.