Aging vs. Alzheimer’s: Spotting the difference

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STEVENS POINT, WI (OnFocus) – More than six million Americans aged 65 and older are estimated to have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, and Aspirus is using this opportunity to bring awareness to the brain disorder affecting one in nine people in this age group.

The main signs of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss and a decrease in intellectual function.

“We can expect to be a little forgetful as we get older due to normal age-related changes in the brain, says Hannah Oswald, a nurse practitioner who specializes in geriatric medicine at Aspirus Plover Clinic-Vern Holmes Drive. “But when individuals are having severe memory problems and trouble carrying out simple activities, these are signs that something more serious may be going on and shouldn’t be ignored.”

The National Institute on Aging says that normal forgetfulness may include things like occasionally overlooking a bill, misplacing things from time to time, forgetting what day it is but remembering later, or sometimes struggling to remember a word.

Possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease include trouble with basic tasks like paying for a purchase or counting change, putting things away in an odd place, like keys in the freezer, losing track of the date or time of year or trouble having a conversation.

Tips for prevention

Growing evidence indicates that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline by adopting key lifestyle habits.

Courtesy of the Alzheimer’s Association, here are 10 Ways to Love Your Brain:

  1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
  2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
  3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked.
  4. Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke (obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes) negatively impact your cognitive health. Take care of your heart, and your brain just might follow.
  5. Heads up! Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seat belt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
  6. Fuel up right. Eat a healthy and balanced diet that is lower in fat and higher in vegetables and fruit to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
  7. Catch some zzz’s. Not getting enough sleep due to conditions like insomnia or sleep apnea may result in problems with memory and thinking.
  8. Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with increased risk of cognitive decline, so seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. Also, try to manage stress.
  9. Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community. If you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir. Help at an after-school program. Or just share activities with friends and family.
  10. Stump yourself. Challenge and activate your mind. Build a piece of furniture. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, such as bridge, that make you think strategically. Challenging your mind may have short-term and long-term benefits for your brain.

When possible, combine these habits to achieve maximum benefit for the brain and body. Start now. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits.

Get help

If you or a loved one is experiencing memory problems, or you’re concerned about changes in memory and behavior, your first step is to talk to your medical provider.

“Early detection and initiation of treatment can make a difference in how both the person with the illness and all of those around them cope with this very difficult diagnosis,” says Oswald. “There currently is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are medications and other therapies that can help manage some of the symptoms.”

Do not be afraid to ask for help, and do not wait to reach out if you have concerns about a loved one. Working together and working early is the key to the best possible outcome for all those involved.

Hannah Oswald, DNP, APNP, AGNP-C cares for patients at Aspirus Plover Clinic-Vern Holmes Drive. To schedule an appointment with her, call the clinic at 715-344-1600. To learn about Aspirus Health’s other clinic locations and providers, visit

You can support Alzheimer’s research at Fore Roger in Marshfield next month. Details here.

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News Desk
Author: News Desk

This piece was posted by our news team! Contact us or submit stories at [email protected]