June 15, 2022

Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Why Ageism Can Impact Your Important Diagnosis

Aging is an inevitable and beautiful part of the human experience. Still, society treats growing older as something to be feared or avoided. With ageism, we assume that mental decline is a part of getting older, so it's hard to tell dementia from normal brain function in ourselves and others.

Ignoring Dementia Symptoms or Attributing it to “Old Age” is a Serious Part of Ageism.

Dementia is not a specific disease. It describes a group of symptoms that disrupt a person’s day-to-day activities, such as difficulties with language, memory, attention, recognition, problem-solving, and decision-making. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease—a brain disease that affects 6.2 million people in the United States.

And while Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are not necessarily an inevitable part of aging, they are serious conditions that require early diagnosis and treatment.

Dementia Signs and Symptoms to Watch for in Yourself and Loved Ones 

according to the CDC:

  • 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.

The greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is advancing age. Most people with the disease are over 65 years old, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

“But, don’t just assume it’s Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Chris Dennis, Chief Behavioral Officer at Landmark. “If any of the signs are there, you should be evaluated.”

Dementia Preventive Measures

Even though you can’t change your age, genetics, or family history, addressing some risk factors could prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases, according to a 2020 report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention, and care.

The CDC recommends:

  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure level.
  • Being physically active.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Getting enough sleep – between 7 and 9 hours per night.
  • Staying engaged socially.
  • Managing blood sugar.

Woman speaking with her physician

Family Tips for Starting the Conversation About Dementia without Ageism

Don’t ignore signs of dementia. It’s sometimes hard to know the difference between what’s age-related and what’s dementia. These are delicate topics as our loved ones age. An isolating pandemic has led to more time passing between family visits, and older Americans have spent more time alone.

Trust your gut and the observations of family members who aren’t around as often. Siblings or family members who haven’t seen aging parents or grandparents in a few months may have a good perspective on mental decline. Those who live closer may not notice changes. Use trusted national resources such as the Alzheimer’s Association for an initial symptom review.

Getting help from a professional can help take the emotion out of it. Some family members—or the patient—may be hesitant to admit dementia could be at play out of fear they’ll appear weak or vulnerable, or old. It’s often easier for them to explain symptoms away. A neutral third party—a doctor or caregiver—can help bring up the issue.

Landmark’s in-home provider visits take place in a comfortable setting and can identify signs of dementia a primary care provider may not spot during a clinic visit.

As the number of seniors in the United States is expected to double by 2030, understanding dementia symptoms and creating a positive attitude about aging is essential. In a recent study, conducted by Yale School of Public Health’s Becca Levy, researchers found that thinking positively about aging can help reduce stress and even lower risk for dementia.

Talk to your Landmark care team if you notice any changes in your own memory or have questions about a loved one. The CDC estimates that more than half of people with memory loss have yet to discuss symptoms with a healthcare provider.