Are you just forgetful or is it dementia? Neuroscientist reveals the key difference | The Sun

FORGETFULLNESS is pretty common, especially as we age.

Who hasn't found themselves in a room with no clue why, forgotten friends' birthdays, or misplaced their keys?

But it can be unclear where the line between plain old forgetfulness and something more sinister, like dementia, lies.

Professor Hana Burianova, a neuroscientist at Bournemouth University and advisor for British supplement brand Healthspan, explained what separates the two.

Our brain's ageing process begins earlier than we think, she told The Mail – from our early twenties, in fact.

Our brains begin to age as soon as they stop developing, she explained, and connections between different parts of it are lost.

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But being active, social, exercising and eating healthily can all help us make new brain connections as we age.

What separates Alzheimer's – the most common form of dementia – from age-induced forgetfulness is the death of neurons in our brains, Professor Burianova said.

Neurons transmit messages between different parts of the brain. With Alzheimer's, neurons typically die in parts of the brain involved in memory such as the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus.

When someone has Alzheimer's, their brain goes through pathological degeneration instead of ageing healthily, Professor Burianova explained.

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How can I tell the difference between absentmindedness and dementia?

Research shows that while adults' autobiographical memory gets a little woolly after they hit 65, their memory for facts and words can be better than younger peoples', Professor Burianova said.

And an older people might often forget things simply because they weren't paying attention in the first place.

But with Alzheimer's, someone could forget conversations they just had.

They may also get lost somewhere they know well, or forget the route home, despite having done it countless times before.

"Anyone can forget to turn off the stove, but with someone with Alzheimer's, it keeps happening," Professor Burianova said.

She described a few more tell-tale signs of dementia.

Repeating themselves in a short space of time

Someone with Alzheimer's will repeat the same information over and over again often in a short space of time, Professor Burianova said.

"We all tell stories several times, especially to our partners. There might be a cue that reminds us, and that's the trigger for our retrieval," she continued.

"But someone with Alzheimer's will repeat something three times in a row. It's a symptom of their short term memory loss."

Mood changes

You might mistake a loved one becoming anxious or depressed for problems with their mental health.

But Professor Burianova revealed that these symptoms could indicate brain deterioration.

Anxiety and depression are some of the early signs of frontotemporal dementia (FTD), she said.

It was recently revealed that actor Bruce Willis suffers from this.

The neuroscientist explained: "Picture the brain as a big net and part of the net starts being broken, then the rest of the net starts to rip.

"Depending on where that process starts, it will govern the symptoms."

Trouble speaking

If a previously fluent loved-one suddenly has difficulty speaking or understanding language, this might be another sign they're suffering from FTD.

You might realise they're not understanding something you're saying or they'll start stuttering or stumbling when speaking, Professor Burianova said.

This is down to deterioration the brain's frontal lobe, which handles language production.

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Changes in personality

If your loved one's prefrontal cortex is affected by dementia, they could suddenly display obsessive compulsive tendencies or become fearful, aggressive or completely disinhibited.

Professor Burianova gave the example of making lewd remarks to strangers or someone taking off their clothes off.

What is dementia?

Dementia isn’t a specific disease – it describes a syndrome, or a group of symptoms that regularly occur together.

These can include memory loss as well as difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, according to the NHS.

While these changes are often small to begin with, but for someone with dementia become severe enough to affect their day-to-day life.

Dementia begins when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer's or a series of strokes.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia – but not all dementia is down to Alzheimer's.

Others include:

  • Vascular dementia – where oxygen supply to the brain is reduced because of narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, damaging or killing brain cells
  • Mixed dementia – when someone has more than one type of dementia
  • Dementia with Lewy bodies – when tiny abnormal structures (Lewy bodies) develop inside brain cells, disrupting the brain's chemistry and leading to the death of brain cells
  • Frontotemporal dementia (including Pick's disease) – when front and side parts of the brain are damaged over time from batches of abnormal proteins forming inside nerve cells, causing them to die

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