Retire United Event Recap: Recognizing the Signs of Normal vs. Not-normal Aging
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United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County

Retire United Event Recap: Recognizing the Signs of Normal vs. Not-normal Aging

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May 10, 2019

The Retire United 2019 Spring Connection Event was an expert discussion on signs of normal versus not-normal aging. Patricia Durham, ADPC/MC, PAC Certified Trainer, PAC Certified Engagement Leader and Senior Director of Life Enrichment at Heritage at Deer Creek shared her expertise and passion for understanding dementia and assisting older adults and their families.


This event was sponsored by Vesta Senior Network, a local organization that helps older adults and their families navigate the world of long-term care and find the solution that is right for them.


The event began with an introduction by Retire United member Bev Jurkowski and an overview of United Way’s investments in the area of Older Adult Support and Independence from Financial Stability Portfolio Manager Krystina Kohler. Krystina shared that donations to United Way’s Community Fund allowed United Way to invest more than $1.4 million in 13 programs serving older adults and their caregivers in 2017-2018.


Patricia Durham was then introduced and began her talk on recognizing the signs of normal and not-normal aging. Patricia is a UK native who has worked in the healthcare field for decades and began her journey to understanding dementia in 2012. Since then, Patricia has earned advanced degrees and certifications and studied under world-renowned dementia experts.


Here are some highlights of Patricia’s presentation on normal vs. not-normal aging:

  • “Dementia” is an umbrella term that encompasses more than 105 different conditions. Alzheimer’s is one type of dementia. It is possible to have a mixture of two or more types of dementia.
  • By age 65, 1 in 9 people will have some form of dementia. By age 85, that number rises to 1 in 3.
  • Dementia is a terminal disease, but how long a person may live with dementia varies greatly.
  • “Reversible dementia” is a misnomer; dementia is not (yet) reversible, though scientists are working hard to find a cure!
  • Our brain ages just like our body, so it is normal to experience slowness, delays in recall, and forgetfulness as we get older.
  • Normally aging individuals (i.e. those without dementia) may experience forgetfulness, but have the ability to recall facts and read environmental and social cues that help them remember - it may just take a little longer than it used to.
  • Signs of dementia or not-normal aging may include: chronic confusion, chronic fatigue, delusions, inability to complete tasks, insomnia, pain, and stress.
  • It is crucial to take care of our overall health, including getting enough high-quality sleep, staying hydrated, keeping up with doctor’s appointments, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a social life. A lack in any of these areas can contribute to heightened dementia risk.
  • Dementia symptoms such as dehydration, pain, and depression may be caused by issues other than dementia. If you follow the basic health tips above, these symptoms can be managed.
  • If you cannot remember something and find yourself panicking, take a deep breath and move on. Normally aging individuals will find that it is easier to recall the piece of information if they don’t dwell on the fact they forgot or panic.
  • If you are concerned that a loved one is showing signs of dementia, there are a few simple tests you can try:
    • Ask your loved one to complete a familiar task, like making coffee, but add a specific instruction (example: “add an extra scoop”). If they struggle to complete the task or do not follow your instruction, it may be time to take them to the doctor.
    • Ask your loved one to draw a picture of a clock (analog, not digital). If they struggle with where to place the numbers, leave out numbers, or forget other simple elements, it may be time to take them to the doctor.
    • There is also a simple test that Patricia can administer free of charge called the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE). More information on how to contact Patricia, below.
  • If you are a caregiver for a loved one with dementia, don’t neglect your own health. Be sure to stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and take time to de-stress. Not only will these tips help you be a better caregiver, but they can help reduce your risk of dementia.
  • If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, music is a wonderful, therapeutic experience for them. You can also help them live a good life by leaving them notes or cues to help them remember certain things.
  • Finally, a few tips to prepare yourself for the future:


For further information or to request an MMSE test, contact Patricia Durham at 262.789.6600 or by email at

Retired or soon-to-retire? Expand your community involvement, participate in flexible volunteer opportunities, socialize, and more with Retire United.


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