You may have heard the phrase “senior moment,” which is a polite way of saying an older person had a moment of forgetfulness or confusion attributed to advanced age. However, these slight lapses can happen at any age, so senior moment is something of a misnomer. That said, they do become more frequent as we get older. They can be a perfectly natural part of aging. Let’s take a look at what differentiates a few isolated senior moments from early signs of dementia.
What Is a Senior Moment?
A senior moment is a non-medical term. It generally refers to a moment where our memory takes a nap and we can’t remember a birthday, PIN, or person’s name. You can probably think of a time when it’s happened to you. This more playful description denotes that it is a natural part of the aging process rather than a symptom of a serious condition like dementia. While referred to as a senior moment, these memory lapses can happen at any age, they just become more common as we get older.
Can You Reduce Senior Moments or Your Risk of Dementia?
It’s always better to prevent a condition than have to treat it. The human brain is a mystery to us despite rapid scientific advancement, as well as something as specific as an absence of dementia being attributed to living a certain way. However, we know many things that slow the progression of aging on the body and the mind. We also know many conditions which can put you at a greater risk of developing a degenerative brain disease. You can probably guess the main one as it’s been parroted since your schooldays: leading a balanced lifestyle, including diet and exercise, will help to keep you healthy over time. It stands to reason that keeping good brain and body health would also reduce your chances of having a senior moment.
Exercise and Keep Active
Keeping physically active gets your heart pumping harder, sending more oxygen and nutrients to the brain and keeping it healthy. A lovely side effect of this is improving your mood and decreasing your risk of conditions which can have a knock-on effect and cause dementia. These include:
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
We’re designed to connect with others. If proof of this was ever needed, it’s in the fact that the more socially active we are, the healthier our brains are. Spending time with others fights depression and isolation, both risk factors for dementia, and gives us a mental workout that our brains love.
It’s quite logical: many of the things that weaken with dementia are exercised when we connect with people. We have to remember names, dates, and places in conversation, we use our judgement to size people up or decide how much to share, we anchor ourselves in the present moment, we exercise our vocabulary and language skills, do tasks together, and deep conversation may lead to abstract thought.
Eat Healthy Food
The Mediterranean and MIND diets are the current most-studied options for their effect on dementia risk. These diets limit processed foods, meat, sweets, and dairy. They have a strong emphasis on eating fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, poultry, and fish.
A simple way to keep healthy is to go for natural foods with a lot of different colours: blueberries, red peppers, leafy greens, plums, red grapes, bananas, carrots… you get the idea. If you meal prep or plan ahead it’s a lot easier to stick to a diet. Having a variety of healthy foods in the fridge already prepared will make it the easier option even over ordering a pizza when you’re feeling tired after a long day.
Some stress is unavoidable, but if you’re in a relationship, job, or other situation that causes you undue stress for a long time it can be very detrimental to your health. Prolonged stress is bad for our brains, so try to find ways of managing it or removing stressors from your life if possible.
Keep Good Sleep Habits
Getting between seven and nine hours sleep every night will keep your brain healthy. Getting less than this can leave you vulnerable to degenerative disorders of the brain as you age, even if you feel fine functioning on fewer hours.
Follow a Routine
Routines help keep us on track and you’ll be less likely to become disorientated on a regular journey or in a frequented place.
See Your Doctor Regularly
Some people hate going to the doctor. There’s a lot of anxiety around the possibility of receiving bad news, but the irony is that you’re less likely to if you get regular checkups. The sooner your doctor knows of a potential problem, the better they can treat it or even stop it from developing further.
Early Signs of Dementia in Seniors
If you have noticed yourself or an older loved one showing an increase in senior moments, it could be an early signal of dementia—but not always. As we’ve said, having the occasional senior moment could just be a sign that you’re tired, stressed, or a natural part of aging. While the symptoms of dementia can vary, there are a few distinct signs to look out for.
It’s easy to let an appointment slip your mind, but if it’s happening frequently and you don’t recall them until you’re reminded, this could be a symptom of dementia.
Difficulty With Tasks
How simple is it to make a cup of tea? You add hot water to a teabag and stir. Well, there are actually a lot of steps when you break it down. You have the intention to make a cup of tea, walk into the kitchen, fill the kettle with water, set it to boil, get out a mug, a spoon, a teabag, put the bag in the mug, then add the boiling water, then stir. Milk and sugar are optional. A person experiencing the early onset symptoms of dementia may lose track of what they’re doing during a process like this, or when cooking a meal. They may just miss out one step, so they realise they’ve put a pan of carrots on the hob to boil without adding any water. This can naturally be dangerous if it’s not a senior moment and a sign of worsening dementia.
Disorientation can manifest itself in a few ways. A person might find themself in a place and uncertain as to how they got there. They may feel displaced in time, reacting to those around them as if, for example, their kids are due to arrive home from school when they actually moved out several years ago. They might also be heading somewhere familiar but struggle with the route and end up taking a wrong path.
One bad decision doesn’t equal a dementia diagnosis; to err is human. However, making a series of bad judgement calls could be dangerous and an important warning.
Some poor judgement examples include:
- being careless when driving
- trying to cross a dangerous road
- giving money away to scammers
- not dressing appropriately for the weather outside
- letting their personal hygiene or appearance deteriorate
- returning to normal physical activity too soon after surgery
Someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s may miss out a word in a sentence or substitute a word which doesn’t make sense, making them difficult to communicate with. They might not even notice that they did so and think they said exactly what they meant to. They may also struggle to grasp what you’re saying to them.
Managing Affairs and Abstract Thinking
A person with dementia might struggle to fill out a form or with tasks that involve a lot of numbers, such as their taxes. They may not know what to do with the information presented to them despite knowing mathematics since childhood. The task could become frustrating and overwhelming; although that can happen to many people when faced with a tricky form.
Poor Spatial Awareness
If you notice yourself or your loved one has difficulty judging distance, misses a step in a public place or struggling to park their car, these spatial awareness issues could be a dementia symptom.
It’s easy to misplace your wallet, keys, or phone every now and then. A person with dementia might lose things frequently, find them in obvious places, but also not even recognise the item as their own possession.
Mood, Personality, and Behavioural Changes
A person with dementia may start to exhibit strange behaviour or shifts in personality. This is often incredibly hard on those who love them, as the person they knew begins to slip away and the person may act in a way they never would if they were well. Signs of this could be bluntness, angry outbursts in an otherwise calm person, not filtering inappropriate thoughts and speaking on them, or swearing. Sadly, the confusion and loss of agency with dementia can also lead to depression.
Loss of Initiative
We do get tired of some activities the more we do them. But a person with dementia might lose all interest in a number of things they enjoyed or have to be pushed to get involved.
Conditions Which Present Dementia-Like Symptoms
Just because you’re of a certain age and some of these things have happened does not always mean that you have dementia. It could easily be a combination of a few senior moments and another underlying condition, many of which are treatable. Depression, strokes, long-term alcohol consumption, hormonal changes, infections, nutritional deficiencies, and brain tumours can all present with the dementia signs we’ve listed above. This is why it’s always best to see your doctor as soon as you notice a change so that they can cure or treat whatever’s happening to you. This is just a guideline and searching your symptoms online can lead to incorrect conclusions.
While all of this information may seem a little daunting, it’s best to remember a few things. Having a senior moment every now and then is natural. Whether you’re 18 or 81, you might forget your PIN code. If it’s something else, many conditions are treatable and there are ways to prevent them.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion or professional medical care. If you have concerns about your health or that of a loved one, it’s best to book an appointment with a doctor to set your mind at ease.