As we age, our brains change, but Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not an inevitable part of ageing. In fact, up to 40% of dementia cases may be prevented or delayed. It helps to understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to brain health.

Normal brain ageing may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, but routine memory, skills, and knowledge are stable and may even improve with age. It’s normal to occasionally forget recent events such as where you put your keys or the name of the person you just met.

When It Might Be Dementia

In the United States, 6.2 million people age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. People with dementia have symptoms of cognitive decline that interfere with daily life—including disruptions in language, memory, attention, recognition, problem solving, and decision-making.

Signs to watch for include:

• Not being able to complete tasks without help.

• Trouble naming items or close family members.

• Forgetting the function of items.

• Repeating questions.

• Taking much longer to complete normal tasks.

• Misplacing items often.

• Being unable to retrace steps and getting lost.

If you have one or more of the 10 warning signs listed in the associated CDC Healthy Brain Initiative, please see your health care provider. Early diagnosis gives you the best chance to seek treatment and time to plan for the future.

Conditions That Can Mimic Dementia

Symptoms of some vitamin deficiencies and medical conditions such as vitamin B12 deficiency, infections, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), or normal pressure hydrocephalus (a neurological condition caused by the build-up of fluid in the brain) can mimic dementia. Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause dementia-like symptoms. If you have these symptoms, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider to find out if there are any underlying causes (for these symptoms).

Be Empowered to Discuss Memory Problems

More than half of people with memory loss have not talked to their healthcare provider, but that doesn’t have to be you. Get comfortable with starting a dialogue with your health care provider if you observe any changes in memory, or an increase in confusion, or just if you have any questions. You can also discuss healthcare planning, management of chronic conditions, and caregiving needs.

Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias are not an inevitable part of ageing and adopting a healthy lifestyle is your first step in preserving your brain health.

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