“Is This Normal Aging?”

Certain behavioral changes are expected as we age, but how do we know if these changes are “normal” or reflective of a more serious condition? The term dementia comes from the Latin word demens, meaning “out of one’s mind” and refers to symptoms that arise when memory, thinking, language, social skills, and behavior become impaired. The distinction between normal aging and early signs of dementia is not always clear, but it is important to be mindful of what changes are worrisome and should prompt further evaluation by a medical professional.

What is dementia?

Dementia is caused by brain cells that have died or become dysfunctional. It is not one single disease but a group of symptoms that can be caused by different diseases such as Alzheimer disease, Huntington Disease, Lewy body dementia, strokes and many others. Certain factors such as chronic alcohol use, smoking, uncontrolled diabetes, and high blood pressure increase a person’s risk for developing dementia. Latinos in particular have a 1.5 times risk of developing dementia compared to non-Hispanic whites, which is thought to be due to higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes in Latinos.

What behaviors should I look out for? (Source: NIH, Dealing with Dementia)

  • Repeating the same story or question many times
  • Getting lost in places that should be familiar
  • Agitated behavior or false beliefs about oneself or others
  • Difficulties with speech, understanding, or movements
  • Not knowing the year, season, or month or where one is
  • Disregarding personal nutrition, hygiene, and personal safety

Mental functioning can be influenced by many factors. A doctor can identify whether odd behaviors are due to medication side effects, depression, vitamin deficiency, infection, or whether the behaviors are consistent with early signs of dementia or some other cause. If dementia is diagnosed, some medications may delay the progression of symptoms.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be extremely challenging for anyone, but family values and a strong sense of responsibility to elderly family members in Latino cultures mean that many Latinos, and in particular Latina women undertake a disproportionate burden of caring for individuals with dementia. Although our family values are one of our greatest strengths as Latinos, it is important that caregivers seek out medical services and caregiver resources to ensure they receive the help they need to care for their loved ones.

For more information on dementia, please speak to your health care provider or visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dementia.html

Sources:

NIH Medline, News in Health, Dealing with Dementia (http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/Jan2014/Feature1)

Alzheimer Association, Latinos and Alzheimers (http://www.alz.org/espanol/about/latinos_and_alzheimers.asp)

                                                  Marisa Zuluaga is a student of Mexican-Colombian descent born in Southern California. She studied Neuroscience at University of California, Santa Cruz, and attended Tufts University in Boston for her Master’s Degree. Marisa just completed her second-year of medical school and is member of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) at the University of Rochester, a national organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for the health needs of the Latino community. She looks forward to continuing to contribute to CNY Latino and raise awareness regarding the many health issues affecting the Latinos of Central NY and beyond.

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