Understanding the difference between age-related memory loss and dementia

Sunrise Senior Living  |  December 6, 2016

Forgetfulness is common.

We've all misplaced the car keys, forgotten to reply to an email and drawn a blank at the grocery store after leaving the shopping list at home. But there is a point when forgetfulness is more concerning, especially in older adults. 

"Many people have difficulty recalling someone's name, at times," said Rita Altman, senior vice president of Memory Care and Program Services at Sunrise. "A truer sign of dementia occurs when a person doesn't recognize a formerly well-known person, doesn't know the day or season, or has difficulty remembering new information."

Your brain changes as you age. That's inevitable. But having major memory problems is not a normal sign of growing older. The line between age-related memory loss and dementia might seem thin, but there are a number of signs and symptoms that can help you tell one from the other.

Understanding what makes dementia different from age-related memory loss is crucial when caring for your parent.Understanding what makes dementia different from age-related memory loss is crucial when caring for your parent.

If you're concerned about your aging parent and believe forgetfulness may be escalating to dementia, it's important to have a better understanding between the two. 

Examples of age-related forgetfulness
As your parent grows older, you may notice a difference in his or her ability to remember normal everyday tasks. The following examples are common and may be associated with dementia, according to Helpguide:

  1. Misplacing everyday items that your parents use on occasion, such as glasses, car keys and the remote control.
  2. Becoming easily distracted while reading something or while in deep conversation.
  3. Forgetting to attend an appointment that was scheduled weeks in advance.
  4. Accidentally mixing up family members' names, or calling an acquaintance by the wrong name.
With dementia, your loved one will experience more than memory loss.With dementia, your loved one will experience more than memory loss.

Signs and symptoms that could signify dementia
While forgetfulness is the most common symptom associated with dementia, it's certainly not the only sign - or deciding factor - of the disease. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the symptoms of dementia go beyond memory loss and can vary. Your loved one may experience difficulty communicating, focusing, reasoning and more. Examples may include:

  • Inability to solve problems - Working with numbers, like finalizing an agenda and taking care of monthly bills, becomes more difficult.
  • Issues completing everyday tasks - Driving, playing a game or working - tasks that used to come second nature - seem impossible to complete.
  • Feeling confused about time or location - When your parent loses track of time and becomes confused about where he or she is, in places like the grocery store or at the park.
  • Inability to engage in conversation - Dementia may cause your parent to have trouble engaging in spoken or written conversation.
  • Poor judgment making - Putting him or herself in a position without preparation, such as walking out on a snowy, cold day without a jacket.
  • Change in personality - If your parent seems more fearful, anxious, depressed or suspicious than usual, it may be a sign of dementia.

If you're concerned about your parent's overall well-being, schedule an appointment with the doctor. He or she will give you a better understanding of exactly what your loved one is going through and if there's any progression in memory loss.

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