Normal or Not? Discerning the Difference between Aging and Illness
Slowing down, losing strength and gaining a few white hairs and wrinkles are all a normal part of the aging process. But there are symptoms some experience that shouldn’t be taken for granted. During the senior years, it’s essential to know the difference between what’s “normal”—and what’s not.
Our brains do slow down with age, and it can take more time to process information. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that it’s common to have greater difficulty remembering names of people, places and other things. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) may be noticed by others, but isn’t serious enough to interfere with daily life. Dementia, however, does interfere with life, possibly affecting the person’s ability to learn and recall information; to write or speak; to understand written or spoken words; to understand and use symbols, maps, etc., and understand where objects are; or to plan, reason, solve problems and focus on tasks.
Loss of Eyesight/Hearing
Roughly one in three Americans ages 65-74 has hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, as well as almost half of those over 75. Typically, age-related hearing loss happens in both ears at the same level. But if a senior feels frustrated or embarrassed by not being able to hear, experiences difficulty in trying to communicate with others, or causes arguments with loved ones, it might be time for medical assistance.
When it comes to the eyes, decline in vision is common. But when that loss makes daily tasks difficult—or impossible—and contacts or glasses no longer help, there may be a reason other than age, reports the American Foundation for the Blind. Cataracts, glaucoma and the like require professional care.
Decreases in strength and sensory abilities can make seniors feel a bit off-balance, weak or unsteady. Sometimes the answer is an inner-ear infection, but there may be other factors at play. Consider seeing a medical professional. Loss of balance can lead to falls and, therefore, potentially life-changing injuries. In all cases, when in doubt, check it out.
- Alzheimer’s Association: http://www.alz.org/mnnd/documents/aging_memory_loss_and_dementia_what_is_the_difference.pdf
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/age-related-hearing-loss
- VisionAware: http://www.visionaware.org/info/for-seniors/age-related-vision-loss/12
- National Institutes of Health: https://nihseniorhealth.gov/balanceproblems/aboutbalanceproblems/01.html