By Liz Loewy, EverSafe General Counsel
America is facing an unprecedented age wave. According to Pew, the population of seniors in the U.S. is expected to more than double in size by 2050, from 41 to 86 million. And by that same year, the number of Americans who are 65 and older is expected to surpass those who are younger than 15. Unfortunately, the older population is more vulnerable to disorders that involve the ability to make decisions. This includes dementia.
Dementia is widely misunderstood. It is not a disease. It is an umbrella term used to describe a significant decline in mental ability that is acute enough to interfere with an individual’s activities of daily living. Memory loss is one example. There are different types of dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common, accounting for 60 – 80% of the cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Vascular dementia, which often occurs after a stroke, is the second most prevalent. Lewy body and Frontotemporal dementia are two additional varieties.
There is no one test for diagnosing dementia. Specialists typically rely on several tests and examinations in their attempt to assess the type of the disorder. Are there predictors of dementia? The Alzheimer’s Association offers ten “warning signs,” but cautions against drawing hard conclusions as to any one of them. Warning signs may include:
The Alzheimer's Association website provides more information as to whether any of these behaviors is ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ age-related change as opposed to a real sign of dementia. We all may forget names from time to time or need assistance using an electronic device.
There is also a condition known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is usually an intermediate stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious problem of dementia, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are more significant than expected age-related changes. Mild cognitive impairment may increase the risk of developing dementia. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better, according to the Clinic.
The bottom line? It’s a good idea to check in with a doctor if any of the potential signs of dementia appears to be an issue. Understanding the symptoms of dementia will help a family member, or caregiver, identify and prepare for the time when additional support may be necessary.
Liz Loewy is General Counsel at EverSafe, a technology company focused on the prevention of financial exploitation and identity theft in later life. Ms. Loewy was formerly the founding Chief of the Elder Abuse Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where she served as trial counsel in the case involving the late Brooke Astor.
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