I'm having trouble balancing my checkbook. Is it dementia, Alzheimer's, or just a 'senior moment'?

I'm having trouble balancing my checkbook. Is it dementia, Alzheimer's, or just a "senior moment"?

Donna Raziano is chief medical officer of Mercy Home Health and Mercy LIFE, which promotes care in the home and community settings.

A: Many people experience lapses in memory, especially as they age. But neither dementia nor Alzheimer's disease is a normal part of getting old.

Distinguishing the two is not always easy. Dementia is an impairment in thinking, communicating, and memory. Alzheimer's is one of the most common causes of dementia and is commonly equated with the general term dementia. Alzheimer's slowly impairs memory and cognitive function and eventually even the ability to do the simplest tasks. The cause is unknown and there is no cure.

Vascular dementia occurs when there is reduced or blocked blood flow to the brain. Its symptoms usually have a sudden onset and often occur in people who have high blood pressure or had a stroke or heart attack. Other conditions that can cause dementia are Parkinson's, thyroid abnormalities, dehydration, B-vitamin deficiency, or drug effects or interactions.

Early symptoms of dementia can be easily overlooked, like trouble balancing a checkbook or getting lost on familiar routes. If it is suspected, see your doctor. Memory and medical tests can identify causes. An early diagnosis helps families make living arrangements, resolve financial and legal matters, and develop support networks.

True/false on Alzheimer's disease:

Only the very old get Alzheimer's.

False - nearly 5 percent of the more than 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's got the disease before age 65.

Alzheimer's patients can live a long life.

True - patients live as long as 10 years after diagnosis.