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Dementia or "Normal Aging?" Many Caregivers Can't Tell

One of the biggest misconceptions about dementia is that it's part of the normal course of aging. Alarmingly, that's a belief shared by many caregivers for older adults. A new survey of relatives and friends caring for people now diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other dementia found two-thirds mistook early symptoms for normal cognitive wear and tear. In doing so, they may have delayed proper diagnosis and early treatment for their loved ones.

See Also: 6 Types of Normal Memory Lapses >> 

The survey, "Alzheimer's Caregivers: Behavioral vs. Cognitive Challenges," was released yesterday by the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. The findings "reinforce that education and early detection must be among the nation's key strategies in tackling" Alzheimer's, said AFA President Eric Hall.

Families can't afford missed opportunities for help that can result from a timely and proper diagnosis."

The majority of caregivers surveyed said they were aware Alzheimer's disease has both cognitive and behavioral symptoms. But two-thirds (64 percent) didn't recognize the behavioral symptoms as problems at first, instead believing they were " just a normal part of aging." Among this group of caregivers, 67 percent say their views delayed seeking diagnosis or treatment for their loved ones.

Behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's or other dementia include irritability, anxiety, personality changes, paranoia, aggression, wandering and sleeplessness.

Ultimately, cognitive symptoms seem to be more easily recognizable for caregivers. For the majority, mostly or only cognitive symptoms (41 percent) or a combination of cognitive and behavioral symptoms (40 percent) prompted a doctor's visit. Only 12 percent said it was mostly or only behavioral symptoms that contributed.

[Caring for an older relative or friend? Check out AARP's Caregiver Resource Center.]

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