Our longer lifespans bring tremendous opportunity, and increased risk of eventually developing a chronic condition or cognitive disorder. Starting at relatively young ages, many worry about their brain health.

If you notice differences in how someone acts or self-manages themselves, it’s important to recognize the difference between normal aging or too busy lifestyles and something more serious.

For example, sometimes forgetting which word to use is normal, difficulty having a conversation is not. Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later, or missing a monthly payment is OK, losing track of the month or the season or being unable to manage a budget may indicate a problem.

We all make bad decisions or lose things sometimes, worry can make normal behaviors seem like a problem when they’re not.

Meanwhile, if someone is seriously concerned about their cognitive ability and fretting about possible dementia, they should seek medical advice.

There are reversible conditions that can mimic dementia, such as dehydration, thyroid issues, vitamin deficiencies, drug interactions or side effects, or a period of delirium following major trauma or surgery.

A doctor can sort through these possibilities, and make a referral if needed to a specialist, such as a neurologist who can provide further information and care.

Early detection is important. There are new procedures, medicines and clinical trials in play. It’s important to be informed.

Understanding the impact of our own lifestyle on the risk for developing dementia is critical. It’s become well known that some people may have high genetic risk for developing a dementia-related disease.

While genetic risk is outside our control, this is not a reason to throw up one’s hands and assume brain disease is inevitable.

Studies in recent years have revealed that a healthy lifestyle can significantly cut the risk of developing dementia, even if the person is genetically predisposed to be high risk.

Discussion at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles earlier this summer underscored the impact of good diet, exercise, limiting alcohol and not smoking on reducing risk.

John Haaga, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging, says, “No one can guarantee you’ll escape this awful disease, but you can tip the odds in your favor with clean living.”

For those diagnosed with cognitive impairment and their caregivers, it’s important to bring this disease out of the closet. People often don’t want to tell others about a disease diagnosis for fear of being seen primarily as a person with a disease rather than the individual they are. This holds true for dementia as well.

You can help by getting involved. Dementia Friends USA is part of a global movement started in the United Kingdom to change the way people think, act and talk about dementia.

You can become a Dementia Friend by viewing an online video at www.dementiafriendsusa.org.

Dementia Friendly America is the work of more than 35 national, leading organizations spurring “a movement to more effectively support and serve those across America who are living with dementia and their family and friend caregivers.” Check this one out at www.dfamerica.org.

Closer to home, the Area Agency on Aging has an upcoming class called Creating Confident Caregivers from 1-3 p.m. Wednesdays from Sept. 18 to Oct. 23 in the Discovery Room at the Campus for Creative Aging, 2920 Lakeview Ave.

The class offers skills for family members caring for a loved one with dementia. It’s a university-tested program with proven results and effectiveness.

Participants learn about the progression of the disease, how it impacts their loved one, strategies to manage difficult behaviors and the importance of taking care of themselves.

Respite care for the person with dementia is available to participants for free. Up to three members from one family can attend a training together.

For more information, call Faith at 982-7746 or check out “classes” at www.AreaAgencyonAging.org. Good luck.

Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.